Autopsy on Herrion doesn’t give answers

By FRANK SCHWAB THE GAZETTE Updated: August 22, 2005 at 12:00 am • Published: August 22, 2005
DENVER - Initial autopsy results on San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Thomas Herrion, who died Saturday night after a preseason game against the Denver Broncos, showed no definitive cause of death. Denver coroner’s office investigator Howard Daniel said Sunday evening the cause of Herrion’s death was “pending further lab studies.” Toxicology tests could take three to six weeks. Herrion, who was 23, died after collapsing in the locker room. “It’s a day of mourning for the 49ers family,” San Francisco coach Mike Nolan said Sunday during a news conference broadcast on the NFL Network. “We lost a teammate and a very good friend as well.” Herrion, who was listed at 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds, collapsed near the end of a team prayer. The team’s doctors and training staff tried to resuscitate him. Emergency medical personnel administered CPR and gave Herrion oxygen as he was loaded onto an ambulance that took him to St. Anthony Central Hospital. Daniel said Herrion was pronounced dead at 11:18 p.m. Nolan said he was told of Herrion’s death before the team left Invesco Field at Mile High for the airport; he shared the news with his players before their flight. Herrion was a first-year player who spent time last season on the practice squads of Dallas and San Francisco. He played this spring for the Hamburg Sea Devils in NFL Europe. Herrion played left guard during San Francisco’s final drive Saturday. Quarterback Cody Pickett ran off Herrion’s block for a 23-yard touchdown with two seconds remaining. That last drive was officially 14 plays, but San Francisco actually ran 16 plays because two were nullified by penalties. One of the penalties was called on Herrion. San Francisco television station KPIX shot footage of Herrion walking off the field after the game with his helmet cocked back on his head, and he did not appear distressed. Nolan said Herrion talked to 49ers player development director Guy McIntyre on the sideline after the final drive, shook hands with some of the Broncos after the game and joked with the team’s nutritionist in the locker room shortly before he collapsed. Nolan said the 49ers were not aware of any pre-existing conditions Herrion might have had and said Herrion’s weight was never a problem during training camp. On Sunday, Herrion was remembered as a passionate man who loved life and football. “He was one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever coached,” said Jim Rieves, Herrion’s coach at Kilgore (Texas) Junior College. “He was a very good young man. He loved the game of football.” Rieves said Herrion was close to his family, especially his mother Janice. “He wanted to succeed in life,” Rieves said. “He wanted to make life better for himself and his mother by getting a college education and playing hard and earning his scholarship. He did that.” According to his 49ers media guide biography, Herrion wanted to pursue a career as a counselor when he was done with football. He was a leader at the University of Utah during his two years there — he became a captain and was selected to the Utah Football Leadership Committee his senior season in 2003. “When we’re practicing, a lot of younger guys watch me to see what they should be doing,” Herrion said in a 2003 interview with Utah’s official Web site. “I let them know when it’s time to joke around and when it’s time to be serious.” Off the field, Herrion played drums in his church band and was a music lover. “When I’m playing, it’s like I’m in my own world and no one can touch me,” Herrion told Utah’s official Web site. “It’s the same feeling I get when I play football.” “He was loved, respected and admired by all of us,” Florida coach Urban Meyer, who coached Herrion at Utah, said in a statement released by the school. “We pray that God’s blessing be with Thomas’ family, friends, and current and former teammates during this sad and difficult time.” Herrion’s death is the first football-related death in the NFL since Minnesota Vikings lineman Korey Stringer died of heat stroke during training camp in 2001. In 1971, Detroit Lions receiver Chuck Hughes died of a heart attack during a game against Chicago. St. Louis Cardinals tight end J.V. Cain died of a heart attack during training camp in 1979. In April, Al Lucas of the Los Angeles Avengers suffered a spinal cord injury and died during an Arena Football League game. “Our thoughts are with the Herrion family and the 49ers,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told The Associated Press on Sunday. “We will be in contact with the 49ers to see what happened.” Funeral plans were not set as of Sunday afternoon. Nolan said the 49ers will have a memorial service for the team Tuesday. “The entire Denver Broncos organization has its hearts and prayers going out to the Herrion family and the San Francisco 49ers,” Broncos spokesman Jim Saccomano said. “It’s a tragic situation.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 476-4891 or fschwab@gazette.com NEXT Indianapolis at Denver 6:05 p.m., Saturday, CBS, 740 AM/850 AM
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