Bitter legal dispute delays soccer safety device

Bitter legal dispute delays soccer safety device

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Over the past three decades or so, 39 children have been killed in accidents in the U.S. involving unanchored soccer goals.

Now, a Glen Ellyn man says he has struggled to get a solution on the market after a bitter legal battle with a Rolling Meadows company which blames him for any delays.

10 years ago, 6-year-old Zachary Tran was killed with a soccer goal tipped over and hit him in the head, crushing his skull. The Vernon Hills youngster loved playing soccer and his parents have led a national campaign to prevent such fatalities.

"He was a ball of joy, a ball of energy and all. He would just go nonstop," Jayson Tran says of his son. "We hope for Zach's legacy that not another child has to die or be injured from a soccer goal."

Zachary's parents were not the only ones moved to action by his death. Greg Dempsey says 20 years ago, a friend of his was almost killed by an unanchored soccer goal. When he heard about Zachary's death, he wanted to invent a way to prevent such accidents and he believes he did.

His invention was called Goal Alert, a means of anchoring goals into the ground, along with a red warning flag that provided alerts if the goal became loose. By 2011, 8 years into his effort, Dempsey was essentially broke and Goal Alert was going nowhere. So, he met with Richard Nathan, the CEO of RTC Industries of Rolling Meadows; a worldwide leader in research, marketing and design.

"He said that product will be on every goal in America in a few years with the right team," Dempsey says. "Nike is the centerpiece of that team…and my relationship with Nike, I can deliver Nike."

In May, 2011, RTC and Dempsey agreed to a one year deal, in which he was to be paid $125,000. But, 8 months later, the arrangement collapsed.

RTC won't discuss the details, but the civil lawsuit accuses Dempsey of emailing confidential trade secrets and drawings to outside contacts and making an after hours visit to company offices to steal the only signed copy of his contract.

"RTC's paramount concern is child safety on the soccer fields," says Louis Disanto, attorney for RTC.

Dempsey says that RTC stopped paying him after just 6 months and that his promised stake in the final product of 49 percent, had been cut almost in half, to 29 percent.

"All along, they had been trying to get this for less and less and less and now they want to get it for nothing," Dempsey says.

The dispute over the invention turned even uglier when company CEO Richard Nathan asked Rolling Meadows police to investigate whether Dempsey had stolen company properties. Police helped RTC remove several boxes from Dempsey's former garage and he was booked and charged.

The charges were later dismissed, and now Dempsey is suing Nathan for false arrest. All of this happened while a device that could save children's lives, sits on the shelf. RTC says it's Dempsey's fault, not theirs.

"Mr. Nathan is passionate about the issue of child safety and the soccer fields. His own children played soccer from when they were very young through high school," says attorney Louis Disanto. "And Mr. Nathan is proud that the soccer goal securement device is developed at RTC."

Zachary Tran's parents, however, say Greg Dempsey is just as passionate, has supported their cause for years, and they are doubtful he would do anything to delay getting the Goal Alert device onto the soccer fields.

"He took a lot of personal risk, made a lot of sacrifices," says Jayson Tran. "Everything he's done has been motivated by soccer goal safety, trying to find a way to prevent these tragic accidents."

Jayson says there are other ways to make sure soccer goals are safe, but he believes the Goal Alert could be a real life-saver.

The group founded by him and his wife Michelle is called "Anchored for Safety."

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