Family baffled by Turpin suicide ruling

shopkins@herald-leader.com, jkegley@herald-leader.comJuly 10, 2010 

The Fayette County coroner's office said Friday that former University of Kentucky basketball star Melvin Turpin died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Coroner Gary Ginn said he did not plan to publicly release other details surrounding Turpin's death.

Turpin's family members said they remain mystified by the 49-year-old's death.

On Friday, Turpin's niece, Rosalind Turpin, questioned whether the coroner's report was correct. She said investigators told her that Turpin shot himself in the chest.

"I just don't believe that at all," Rosalind Turpin said. "I think there's more to it."

Turpin was found dead about 4:30 p.m. Thursday at his home in the Masterson Station subdivision. He was discovered by a family friend who regularly checked on Turpin and his wife, Kerry, who was away for medical treatment.

Turpin's sister, Margaret Burrus, confirmed that Kerry Turpin had suffered a stroke about a week and a half ago. Neighbors said they saw an ambulance take Kerry away, and they hadn't seen her since.

Jenny Wurzback of Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital confirmed Kerry Turpin is a stroke patient at the facility, and she said she did not wish to make any statements.

Burrus said she wasn't sure of the severity of the stroke but that Kerry Turpin seemed to be in no condition to take care of Melvin Turpin's funeral arrangements. Arrangements are being handled by a family friend, she said.

Burrus said Kerry Turpin had been having heart problems, resulting in three surgeries over the past few years. Because he had coped with those problems for so long, Burrus said she was not convinced that Turpin was grieving over his wife's condition. Like Rosalind Turpin, Burrus said she thought there was more to the story.

She said police have not given the family details about what led them to rule the death a suicide.

They also said that Melvin Turpin was diabetic, but no one knew whether that was a factor in his death.

Rosalind Turpin said she was not aware of Melvin Turpin having any financial problems. She said she thinks her uncle had recently given a donation to the University of Kentucky and had purchased a new car. Turpin was a center for UK in the 1980s, then was drafted sixth in the 1984 NBA Draft by the Washington Bullets and immediately traded to Cleveland. Turpin also played for Utah and Washington before his pro career ended after five seasons.

His ex-wife, Lisa Nichols of Normal, Ill., said she thought Turpin struggled for a while as he coped with the transition from "being a star to being a regular person."

"That's a huge adjustment," Nichols said.

Nichols and Turpin were together about 10 years. They divorced in the mid-90s, a couple of years after Turpin retired.

Nichols said Turpin started working in security soon after leaving professional basketball, and he loved his job. Most recently, he had been working as a security guard at UK, officials have said.

Nichols said Kerry Turpin is a nice and religious woman, who, she thought, would have been able to help Turpin.

"I know he had some issues while we were married," Nichols said. "But I thought he was happy with his new wife."

Nichols said Turpin never had a relationship with his three children, ages 24, 20 and 18. But the children plan to attend any memorial services in Kentucky, nevertheless.

"He had a giant heart," Nichols said. "He was a good guy. I know my kids are absolutely devastated."

Kerr Brothers Funeral Homes will be handling the arrangements. A date and time for services is still pending, a spokesman said.

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