Pop Warner youth football sued over Hixton man's suicide - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Pop Warner youth football sued over Hixton man's suicide

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HIXTON, WI (WXOW) - - The mother of a Hixton man who died in 2012 is suing the Pop Warner organization, saying his suicide was the result of dementia caused by brain injuries he suffered while playing youth football.

Joseph Chernach was 25 when he hanged himself in his mother's shed in Hixton, Wisconsin, in 2012. It's an image Chernach's mother, Debra Pyka said she'll never forget.
"Everyday I see it. It's miserable," Pyka recalled in an interview with News 19 Friday afternoon.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Madison on Thursday says Chernach suffered from a degenerative brain disease called dementia pugilistica, also known at Chronic Traumatic Encephalapathy, CTE. It alleges he got it from playing for four seasons in a Pop Warner league beginning when he was 11.

After Chernach's death, the family sent in his brain tissue to Boston University to have it studied. Pyka said the doctor that examined his brain, Dr. Ann McKee calls it the most severe case of CTE she has seen in someone Chernach's age.

"It affects behavioral and mood issues first," Gordon Johnson, Pyka's attorney said. "You are going to see the depression, you're going to see the paranoia, you're going to see difficult decision making, impulsive behaviors, spiraling down into something like a suicide, which is what happened here."

Pyka said she wants Pop Warner to be held accountable.

"I think they are liable for his death and the pain and suffering he went through and now we have to go through all the pain and suffering without him," she said.

The wrongful death lawsuit seeks at least $5 million from Pennsylvania-based Pop Warner Little Scholars, the Pop Warner Foundation and their insurance company.

Pkya said she filed the law suit because she doesn't want her son to have died in vain.

"I hope he knows what we are trying to accomplish to help others. I know I'll see him again...I don't want to lose any more kids to this brain disease."

News 19 reached out to Pop Warner spokesperson and he responded with the following statement:

"This is a terrible tragedy, and our hearts go out to Joseph's family. Pop Warner has been, and will continue to be, at the forefront of addressing player safety. We have implemented significant rule changes and medical protocols as we constantly look at how to make the game as safe as possible for children. In addition, we emphasize heightened coaching and parent education in carrying out these safety measures. While there is incredible sadness in this story, we question the merits of singling out four years of youth football amid a career of sports that lasted through high school."


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