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Preliminary autopsy results for MU player. Aaron O'Neal

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  • Preliminary autopsy results for MU player. Aaron O'Neal

    Posted on Thu, Jul. 14, 2005

    Coroner releases preliminary results in death of Missouri football player
    ALAN SCHER ZAGIER

    Associated Press

    COLUMBIA, Mo. - A preliminary autopsy report ruled out infection, trauma or foul play in the death of Missouri football player Aaron O'Neal.

    Boone County medical examiner Valerio Rao said Thursday that complete autopsy results won't be available for weeks, pending further tests.

    The prolonged inquiry includes toxicology tests to determine the presence of illegal drugs, steroids and performance-enhancing supplements such as ephedra, said medical examiner Valerie Rao.

    "Everything will be covered," she said. "It's just going to take a little time."

    Rao released her preliminary findings a day after campus officials canceled her scheduled appearance with football coach Gary Pinkel at a university news conference. School officials called it a scheduling conflict. Rao said she was asked to stay away.

    "I was invited and I accepted the invitation. Then they said they didn't want me there," she said Thursday. "They gave me no reason whatsoever."

    University spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken called the incident "a misunderstanding." After consulting with the Missouri athletics department, Banken told Rao that Pinkel wanted to "focus on Aaron O'Neal's family and his players," according to a written statement issued Thursday in which Banken also apologized to Rao.

    As word of O'Neal's death continued to spread across campus and throughout his hometown of Creve Couer and nearby St. Louis, a growing shrine to the redshirt freshman linebacker emerged at the gates of Memorial Stadium.

    Flowers, sympathy cards and handmade signs hinted at the bonds O'Neal built in his short time in Columbia. Red-eyed teammates stood silently outside the gates. Some kneeled to pray.

    "I'm dying inside now because there's really no way to show much I really care," junior linebacker Dedrick Harrington wrote in a poem taped to the gates. "No way to let you know that in me there was a true friend ... It is a cold world without you."

    O'Neal, 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, started to struggle with conditioning drills about 45 minutes into the hour-long workout, during which players wore shorts, T-shirts and cleats but no helmets or pads. Temperatures at the time were in the upper 80s.

    At the end of the workout - during which several teammates and strength coaches shouted at him to push harder when he weakened - O'Neal slumped to the ground as strength and conditioning coach Pat Ivey, who directed the sprints and agility drills, talked to the remaining 11 players. A trainer helped O'Neal to his feet, and a teammate helped him to the locker room as the other players left the field to lift weights.

    "I knew he was having some problems at the workout, but I didn't know it was that bad," said Lorenzo Williams, a defensive tackle who participated in the afternoon session. "If he was hurting real bad, he wouldn't have said anything to us because he wants to push that much harder for us. That makes it that much worse for us, because he pretty much died for us."

    Unable to communicate in the locker room, O'Neal was taken by ambulance to University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead Tuesday afternoon, just over 90 minutes after the workout ended. Pinkel has suspended the summer workouts indefinitely.

    Under NCAA rules, no coaches were allowed to attend the preseason workouts. Each of the five strength coaches and three athletic trainers at the workout was certified in CPR and first aid, also an NCAA requirement.

    Pinkel offered his full support for Ivey and the strength and sports-medicine staffs for their treatment of O'Neal.

    "They're absolutely exceptional at what they do," he said. "They're very competent."

    Pinkel said he faced a football-related death a decade earlier when he coached Toledo and a 24-year-old freshman planning to try out for the team died after running winter conditioning drills overseen by Toledo coaches. The student later was diagnosed with a heart ailment, he said.

    O'Neal's funeral is scheduled for Monday at Westside Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, with visitation Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m. at Archway Memorial Chapel in Hazlewood. Teammates said they also hope to organize a memorial service in Columbia.
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