CHARLOTTE, N.C. — 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 fiancée.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said Henry died at 6:36 a.m. He 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.
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Later Thursday, police released two 911 tapes. The first was from an unidentified woman who said she was following a yellow pickup truck.
"It's got a black man on it with no shirt on, and he's got his arm in a cast and black pants on," she told a dispatcher. "He's beating on the back of this truck window. ... I don't know if he's trying to break in or something. It just looks crazy. It's a girl driving it."
Just over a minute later, an unidentified man called 911 and said he saw a man "laying in the road" and "definitely unconscious."
Henry was rushed to the hospital early Wednesday afternoon after being found on a curvy section of 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 as his fiancée was driving away from the residence.
Police said that at some point when she was driving, Henry "came out of the back of the vehicle." Harrington wouldn't say whether the woman, whom police would not identify, was present at the scene when police arrived.
Two women from separate homes nearby said Thursday they saw the woman and the pickup at the scene when police arrived. Cheryl Hoffman said she came out with a blanket when she saw Henry wasn't wearing a shirt.
"When I got to where he was laying on the ground out there, he was very unresponsive, laying flat on the ground," Hoffman said. "He was foaming at the mouth, and I was very worried what was happening then."
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 fiancée's parents.
No one answered the door at that home, where there were deep tire tracks on the front lawn.
"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 Carol Cormier said they were expecting to receive the body later Thursday.
The Bengals will wear a helmet sticker Sunday against San Diego to honor Henry.
When 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."
Throughout his career, Henry's 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 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."