The final hours of James Dungy.........
|10 years ago||class of '05 - away - #1|
The final hours of James Dungy
Coach's son 'enthusiastic' to end
BY DARREN EVERSON
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
James Dungy's death is still a mystery to friends, who mostly remember a happy and smiling kid who enjoyed walking the sidelines with his father.
TAMPA - About a month ago, around Thanksgiving, James Dungy stopped by his old high school in Indianapolis. He didn't come to say goodbye.
He came to collect his transcripts.
"It seemed like he had a plan laid out for himself," says C.E. Quandt, the principal at Indianapolis North Central High School.
Roughly a week later, Dungy visited Gaither High in Tampa, which he attended before moving north to be closer to his family. He sought out his former football coach. They gabbed for 45 minutes.
"He was real enthusiastic," Mark Kantor says. "He talked about getting a new job."
On Dec. 21, according to the St. Petersburg Times, Dungy posted some messages on Myspace.com, a Web site where people maintain personal pages and send notes. One of the messages invited a friend to a party on Jan. 6, Dungy's 19th birthday.
Another said, "Can't talk to nobody no more."
Friends of Tony Dungy's son remain confounded by his apparent suicide the following day, not to mention devastated. Antoinette Anderson - James' girlfriend, who discovered his body in his Hillsborough Community College campus apartment on Dec. 22, according to the Hillsborough County sheriff's office - teared up immediately Thursday during a brief telephone interview.
"Everyone misunderstands him," she said. "He's the most fun-loving person I've ever known."
But even those who knew him don't seem to understand what happened on Dec. 22. Or what happened back in October.
* * *
The night of Oct. 21 was when Dungy suffered a drug overdose. He said he had taken several pills of hydrocodone and naproxen, according to a police report, then called 911.
On the 911 recording, which authorities released Friday, Dungy appeared to indicate that he was depressed. Asked initially by the dispatch operator what the emergency was, he said, "Um, I was being stupid and I took about 15 pills ..."
His next words suggested that he'd been in touch with his mother, Lauren: "... and my mom told me to call you guys so I can get my stomach pumped."
The pills Dungy took are powerful painkillers. While naproxen (the active ingredient in Aleve) is obtainable over the counter in certain strengths, hydrocodone is a heavily regulated and potentially addictive narcotic requiring a prescription.
In the remainder of the 911 call, Dungy detailed his symptoms - his stomach and throat were burning, he said; "I feel like I'm about to pass out" - and then called out to a police officer he saw nearby. The 18-year-old was taken by ambulance to an area hospital, and a sheriff's deputy completed a report to have him evaluated under the Baker Act, a Florida law under which authorities can seek examinations of people who may be a threat to themselves.
What happened next is unclear. The deputy who wrote the report didn't return a phone call from the Daily News and, according to two people in the department, isn't commenting.
It is possible for a mentally unstable person to be held in custody. Just cause must be shown, however, and depression doesn't necessarily qualify: the 1971 Baker Act curbs the state's ability to hold individuals involuntarily.
After being told by the dispatcher that help was coming, Dungy said on the recording, "All right. Appreciate it."
* * *
Whatever happened that night, Dungy apparently didn't say much about it to his friends.
"He didn't mention it to me," says Quintyn Eldridge, an ex-high school teammate.
Dungy and Eldridge had known each other since middle school. Eldridge says they talked a lot, the last time being two days before Dungy's death.
"He asked me how work was going," Eldridge says. "We were talking about hanging out soon. Stuff like that. I told him I'd call him back when I got off of work."
By all accounts, the 6-7 Dungy was a respectful, gregarious, outgoing young man. When the family moved to Indianapolis, where his father coaches the Colts, during his senior year, he initially didn't want to go, his football coach says. When he moved back to Tampa, Dungy did so in part so he could be with his friends.
The apartment complex in which he lived, the Campus Lodge in the nearby suburb of Lutz, is a popular weekend spot with students at the University of South Florida. Dungy's plan was to transfer there. A "B/C" student in high school, Mark Kantor says, Dungy was enrolled at Hillsborough Community College, and was said to be ultimately interested in a degree in criminal justice technology. Although he told Kantor in their conversation that he was "in line" for a job, Dungy didn't say what it was.
His girlfriend discovered him in his apartment in the wee morning hours of Dec. 22, after she returned from a 10-minute walk. Antoinette Anderson did not discuss what happened on the telephone and police have not divulged what they learned from the 18-year-old at the scene. The official cause of death, plus the 911 tape from that night, won't be released for several weeks, after toxicology and tissue tests are completed.
Dungy sounded excited about his relationship with Anderson in conversations with friends, though. "Just said that she was a real cool girl," Eldridge says, "that she was real nice and she liked him, and that I should meet her."
Despite his many friends, the apparent direction he received from his family and the ease he had around people, including adults, Dungy had a personal page on Myspace.com that was quite stark. It included s3xual images, references to weapons and marijuana, an anti-police epithet ("F--- the police," an allusion to an illicit-lyric N.W.A. rap song) and a photo of Dungy with his face obscured by a black bandana. The page has since been taken down.
* * *
All of this is seemingly impossible to reconcile, and yet it's not unheard of. There are 4,000 suicides by people under the age of 25 nationwide annually, says Lanny Berman, the executive director of the American a.ssociation of Suicidology.
And of those, cases like this one - in which the victim often seemed fine in his final days - aren't uncommon.
"It's not uncommon to have somebody look good today, look terrible tomorrow, look good the next day," Berman says. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 60% of all suicide victims have had a mood disorder.
"It's really about taking that broader picture," Berman says, "and, when he's not looking good, not sounding good, taking seriously - if there are indeed any messages - that he's thinking about suicide, that he's taking any preparatory actions toward suicide, or that he's potentially out of control psychologically."
The question, of course, is how is one to know? For those who were unaware at the time of Dungy's Oct. 21 incident, it is surely a heartwrenching riddle. The Myspace.com page might, from afar, seem to offer a clue, but it could also just be the postings of a typical 18-year-old. When asked if there is anything that has been wrongly portrayed about Dungy since his death, the first thing Eldridge cites is the Web site.
"It doesn't explain what type of person he is, his whole value system," he says. "It's just pictures. People take pictures all of the time. For people to judge him on pictures, I don't think is just."
Judging James Dungy at all, based on what is currently known, appears practically impossible.
Originally published on December 31, 2005
Just wanted to post this so we might be able to value our lives a little more........1