Bengals player dies after fall from pickup

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry
died Thursday, a day after falling out of the back of a pickup
truck during what police said was a domestic dispute with his
fiancee.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said Henry died at 6:36 a.m. Henry
was 26.
"We knew him in a different way than his public persona,"
Bengals owner Mike Brown said of the player who was suspended five
times during his career. "He had worked through the 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 we all wanted for him. It's painful to us. We feel it in our
hearts, and we will miss him."
Police spokeswoman Rosalyn Harrington said homicide detectives
have been assigned to the case but had no further information.
Henry was rushed to the hospital Wednesday after being found on
a residential road. Police said the dispute began at a home about a
half-mile away, and Henry jumped into the bed of the pickup truck
as his fiancee was driving away from the residence.
Police said at some point when she was driving, Henry "came out
of the back of the vehicle." Police have not released the 911
tapes, and Harrington wouldn't say if the woman, whom police would
not identify, was present at the scene when police arrived.
Henry is engaged to Loleini Tonga, and the couple has been
raising three children. Tonga's MySpace page identifies herself as
"Mrs. C. Henry" and has a picture of her next to a person who
appears to be Henry. She also has a post from Tuesday talking about
buying wedding rings. A neighbor said Wednesday that the Tonga
family owns the home where police say the incident began. Charlotte
is home to his fiancee's parents.
"We ask that you keep Chris' family - especially the young
children he leaves behind - in your prayers," Henry's agent, Andy
Simms of PlayersRep Sports said in a statement. "It is tragic when
a life is taken so young. He was a man just realizing his
potential, not just in football, but in life."
Authorities have not announced the cause of death. Mecklenburg
County medical examiner investigator Carol Cormier said they were
expecting to receive the body later Thursday.
The Bengals will wear a helmet sticker Sunday against San Diego
to remember Henry.
When the players received word Henry had died, quarterback
Carson Palmer called them together in the locker room and said they
should dedicate the game and rest of the season to Henry and the
wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who died unexpectedly
during the season.
Henry was away from the Bengals after breaking his left forearm
during a win over Baltimore on Nov. 8. He had surgery and was
placed on season-ending injured reserve following the game.
"We are greatly saddened by today's tragic news about the loss
of Chris Henry," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. "Our
thoughts and prayers go out to Chris' 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."
Throughout his career, his temper and poor decisions got him in
trouble.
He was ejected from a game and suspended for another while at
West Virginia, where former coach Rich Rodriguez told Henry that he
was an embarrassment to himself and the program. His reputation was
already costing him - the Bengals were the only NFL team to bring
him in for a pre-draft visit in 2005.
They found that his demeanor didn't match his reputation. Henry
was shy and spoke in a quiet voice. They warned him that he had to
stay in control if he was going to stay in the NFL. Then, they
picked him in the third round.
In a sense, it was already a second chance.
"I'm worth the chance," Henry said, when he showed up the
following weekend for a rookie minicamp. "I'm just happy they took
me."
Henry become a vital part of the offense as a rookie, helping
the Bengals reach the playoffs in 2005 with his ability to run past
defenders to grab long passes. In the final month of the season, he
also showed his other side, getting arrested for marijuana
possession. After a playoff loss to Pittsburgh, he was arrested on
a gun charge in Florida.
Henry and former Tennessee cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones
became the league's two most trouble-bound players. Commissioner
Roger Goodell suspended both in 2007 - Jones for a full season,
Henry for half of it - as part of a toughening of the league's
conduct policy.
When Henry was arrested for a fifth time following that season
on an assault charge, the Bengals decided they'd had enough. At his
arraignment on April 3, 2008, Municipal Court Judge Bernie Bouchard
called Henry "a one-man crime wave." He was released by the
Bengals the same day.
It was a jolt to Henry, who had dreamed of an NFL career since
high school, when he got the NFL logo tattooed on the back of his
right hand. No team showed an interest in bringing him back. His
career seemed finished.
Then, Brown - who refers to himself as "a redeemer" - changed
his mind and gave him another chance.
"If you only knew him by hearsay, you'd think he's some kind of
ogre," Brown said, during the Bengals' appearance on HBO's "Hard
Knocks" series this summer. "It's not true. He's a good person.
When you see him up close, you'll find that you'll like him. He'll
be a soft-spoken, pleasant person."
This time, Henry seemed determined to stay out of trouble. After
only 19 catches and two touchdowns in 12 games in the 2008 season,
he set about making himself a topflight receiver again. He got into
top shape and worked out with teammates in the offseason, showing
more resolve than at any point in his career.
Henry also changed his personal life, spending more time with
his fiancee and the three children they are raising. Teammates
noticed a pronounced change in his demeanor.
"He's a great kid with a great heart," quarterback Carson
Palmer said as training camp started. "He's changed his life
around. He ran into some trouble, made some bad decisions, and
realized that. He's sorry for them, apologized for them, and has
done everything he can to make himself a better person. I'm just
proud of him."
Before the 2009 season, Henry got a new tattoo that matched his
new outlook. Below his left ear, in flowing one-inch script, was
the world "Blessed."
"I kind of felt like I dug myself out of the hole and started
doing the right things," Henry said in an interview with The
Associated Press as training camp opened. "People say, 'How you
feeling now Chris? You doing all right?' I just tell them I'm
blessed. That's why I got it."
He caught a touchdown pass in each of Cincinnati's four
preseason games. A thigh injury slowed him early in the season, and
he had 12 catches for 236 yards - his 19.7-yard average per catch
leads the team - when he broke his left arm during a win over
Baltimore on Nov. 22, ending his season.
"He was doing everything right," receiver Chad Ochocinco said.
"My grandma always says you never question the man upstairs on
decisions he makes. Everyone makes mistakes, but I don't see how
Chris was supposed to go already, especially when he was on the
right path. Other than that, he's going to be missed."
---
Associated Press Writer Mitch Weiss and AP Sports Writer Joe Kay
in Cincinnati contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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