Cincinnati Bengals' Chris Henry dies from injuries
UPDATED (3:22 p.m.)...
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry died Thursday, one day after being injured in an accident in Charlotte, N.C., in which he reportedly fell from the back of a truck.
Henry was 26.
Police said that Henry died at 6:36 a.m., the Associated Press reported.
"It's a terrible tragedy that just at the time he was running to daylight, if you will, his life was snuffed out," Bengals owner Mike Brown said.
Friends and associates expressed sadness and disbelief, saying that Henry had turned around his life after enduring a series of arrests and NFL suspensions.
"I think that's what, for our football team, they're feeling yesterday and this morning, is the fact that they watched Chris... they watched a guy mature as a young man and work through adversity and kind of come out of it and be a beacon of hope for other people," Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis said at a news conference, sitting alongside Brown. "That's the very difficult thing with his loss, and a young life that won't ever get to reach his full potential. It's a shame."
Lewis said he spoke to Bengals players several times Thursday and told them to remember the positive things about Henry.
Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco was emotional when he spoke to reporters in the team's locker room.
"He'd been doing everything right," Ochocinco said. "My grandma always says you never question the man upstairs on the decisions He makes because He never makes mistakes. But I didn't see how Chris was supposed to go already, especially when he was on the right path."
Brown had been a strong supporter of Henry, helping to restart the wide receiver's NFL career.
"We knew him in a different way than his public persona," Brown said. "He was soft-spoken, pleasant, comfortable to be around. We liked him. He had worked through troubles in his life and had finally seemingly reached the point where everything was going to blossom and he was going to have the future that we all wanted for him and he wanted for himself. And then this tragedy cut him down. It's painful to us. We feel it in our hearts, and we will miss him."
The team's owner recalled a conversation with Henry at a Bengals' Christmas party.
"We had our Christmas party here a few years ago and he was there, and I had a chance to talk to him," Brown said. "Any more, I don't get around the players like I did once upon a time. But in this situation, it was just the two of us talking. And my impression, the impression he left me with, was altogether different than how he's been portrayed. He was gentle, alert, well-spoken, interesting to talk to. And he won me over.
"When I think of him, I will think of him at that moment. I'll think of him catching a pass against Pittsburgh. I'll think of him in practice sessions, just out there on the field running around the way he did. I'll have a picture in my eye of him with Loleini [Henry's fiancée] and the children. What I saw was a good person at heart. Sometimes he wasn't described that way, but that's how I knew him."
According to reports, Henry was engaged to Loleini Tonga and the couple had three children. Henry and Tonga reportedly planned to be married in March.
The police reportedly described the accident that led to Henry's death as being related to a domestic situation. The AP reported that homicide detectives were assigned to the case but no further information was immediately available. No charges had been filed.
Henry had not played for the Bengals in recent weeks because of an arm injury and reportedly was in Charlotte because his fiancée's parents live there.
"Loleini had been a very steadying force in Chris's life since she came into his life," Lewis said Thursday.
Lewis also said that Bengals officials had considered Henry's recent living arrangements in Charlotte to be positive for him.
"He was with their family down there, which had been a very comfortable environment and really had been a great spot for him to be," Lewis said. "He had spent a lot of time down there once he was able to do that. We were very comfortable with him in that environment down there."
According to the Charlotte Observer, police said Wednesday that Henry was involved in a "domestic situation" with his fiancée. The Observer reported that Henry suffered his injuries after jumping into the back of a pickup truck driven by his fiancée.
His fiancée reportedly drove the truck away from the home. Henry jumped into the back of the truck while it was moving, the Observer reported, and later "came out" of the back of the truck, according to police. Police found Henry in the road after receiving a call just before noon Wednesday, the Observer reported. Paramedics took Henry to a nearby hospital, according to the newspaper.
Henry was found by police about half a mile from the house where he and his fiancée were staying, the Observer reported.
Henry played five seasons for the Bengals and had 119 catches in 55 games. He had 12 catches in eight games this season. Henry had been on the season-ending injured reserve list since last month because of a dislocated forearm.
"We are greatly saddened by today's tragic news about the loss of Chris Henry," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said during a written online discussion on the league's Web site. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Chris's family, including his Bengals family. We have been in contact with the Bengals to offer our support through this difficult time.... I ask you to keep Chris Henry and his family in your thoughts today."
DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, said in a written statement released by the union: "The NFL Players Association is deeply saddened by the news of Chris Henry's passing this morning. We were all shocked and dismayed to hear of this horrific tragedy. Chris was a fine player, but more importantly a fine person. On behalf of all NFL players, we would like to express our deepest condolences to his family, friends and all of the fans he inspired across the country."
The Bengals re-signed Henry to a two-year contract in August 2008 even though he'd been suspended by the NFL for the first four games of last season for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
Lewis said at the time that Brown had made the decision to give Henry another chance to play for the team.
The Bengals had released Henry in April 2008 after he was arrested and charged with assault. Prosecutors later dropped the charge. Henry was alleged to have hit an 18-year-old man in the face and to have broken the man's car window with a beer bottle in an incident in Cincinnati.
"I don't regret it," Brown said Thursday of his decision to give Henry another opportunity to play for the Bengals. "He had troubles, and some of them were made more of than I think they actually were. But we knew him here as the person he was in fact. Yes, it was challenging at times with him. But he was someone who we liked and thought he could regroup, catch himself and restart his life. And to his credit, I think he did that."
Henry also was suspended for the first half of the 2007 season by the NFL under the personal conduct policy. At that point, Henry had been arrested four times in 14 months, and Goodell warned him that further off-field misconduct would put his career in jeopardy.
"Since last August when I had a talk with Chris before he was brought back to our football team and then filled Mike in on the details of our meeting--the couple hours that we spent together, he and I and Loleini and the kids, actually," Lewis said. "There was a different man sitting across from me, a different person. And so from that point on, we've seen pretty much a continual growth from Chris, a degree of responsibility... quite an expansion both on the field and off the field."
The Bengals, who lead the AFC North with a record of 9-4, are scheduled to play Sunday at San Diego. The Bengals already had to cope with the death of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's wife earlier this season.
"It's the true sense of the word what professional is," Lewis said. "With everything going on around you and so forth, as a professional you have a job to do. That's part of it. That's just what we have to rely upon. We have to rely on the strength of each other, and collectively as a football team, that the professionalism of the team win out and come to the top."
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