Henry suffered severe head injuries after falling out of the rear end of a truck Wednesday afternoon, and remained on life support before finally succumbing to his injuries at 6:36 a.m. ET Thursday morning at Carolinas Medical Center. Henry, who was 26 years old, leaves behind his fiancée Loleini Tonga, and three children: 3-year-old Seini, 2-year old Chris Jr. and 10-month old DeMarcus.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police detectives have been investigating Wednesday's events, which were described as a "domestic situation" involving Henry and Tonga. According to police, a dispute at a Charlotte-area home led to Tonga leaving the residence in a truck. Henry jumped into the bed of the vehicle and then fell into the street nearly a half mile from the home. When police and paramedics responded to the scene, police said Henry had suffered life-threatening injuries, including severe head trauma.
The Bengals dispatched their head of security to Charlotte Thursday morning to be with the Henry family. According to a statement released by the Bengals, Henry and Tonga were to be married in March. Tonga's MySpace page also made several references to the expected nuptials, including the purchase of her dress and wedding rings.
Police haven't released details on Wednesday's dispute, however homicide detectives were eventually called to the scene of the accident to investigate. According to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police, no charges have been filed, and the dispatching of homicide investigators is typical procedure when the department responds to an accident involving life-threatening injuries. The department declined to answer whether any 911 emergency tapes would be released.
Henry had been away from the Bengals at the time of the incident, recuperating from a broken left forearm suffered against the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 8. Henry was placed on injured reserve shortly after the injury, and had been spending his time away from the team with Tonga and the children.
This season had brought some measure of career and personal redemption for Henry, who prior to 2009 had been best known for running afoul of the league's personal conduct policy and being released by the Bengals in April of 2008, after multiple arrests over the course of his career. However, Bengals owner Mike Brown later reversed his course and offered Henry another chance, bringing him back into the fold for the 2008 season.
Quarterback Carson Palmer raved about Henry's progress in the 2009 offseason, raising expectations that he had matured and was ready to take on a higher level of responsibility on the field. Remarkably quiet, players on both the Bengals and opposing teams remarked over the last several months that Henry had turned his life around and left behind the off-field problems that had plagued him in past years.
A lithe wideout known for his downfield speed and ability to make difficult catches in traffic, Henry's checkered reputation at West Virginia led to NFL teams red-flagging him as a risky pick prior to the 2005 NFL draft. But the Bengals gambled on his immense talent, drafting him in the third round. He showed a great amount of promise his first two seasons, catching 15 touchdown passes and flashing a special brand of big-play ability.
But the talent was quickly overshadowed by Henry's off-field problems, as he was arrested six times in his first three calendar years with the team. It was during those troubles that Henry became a poster child for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's tough stance on personal conduct. Goodell suspended Henry a total of eight games before the Bengals cut him in 2008.
Since returning to the Bengals in August of 2008, he was lauded for taking advantage of his second chance with the team and staying out of trouble. In multiple interviews with media outlets since returning to the team, Henry often talked about feeling "blessed" to get another chance, and referenced his relationship with Tonga and his children as having helped turn his life around.
It's the second tragedy to strike the Bengals this season. In October, Vikki Zimmer, the wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, died from an unreported cause.
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- Chris Henry