Cause of player's death still not known

Friday, July 15, 2005

The medical examiner ruled out a few general causes in the death of Aaron O'Neal.

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The death of University of Missouri football player Aaron O'Neal was not caused by infection, trauma or foul play, the Boone County medical examiner said Thursday, but complete autopsy results won't be available for weeks, pending further tests.

Medical examiner Valerio Rao released her preliminary findings a day after telling a local television station that Missouri officials told her to stay away from a news conference she was scheduled to attend Wednesday. University spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken issued a statement Thursday attempting to clarify the situation.

"We regret any misunderstanding with the Boone County medical examiner regarding yesterday's news conference," Banken said.

After consulting with the Missouri athletics department, Banken asked Rao to stay home because Coach Gary Pinkel wanted to "focus on Aaron O'Neal's family and his players," she said.

At an emotional news conference attended by 14 of O'Neal's teammates, Pinkel broke down several times trying to explain the loss. He compared his player's death to the loss of his own child.

"This is just a devastating situation," Pinkel said. "He was a player who just had a great future."

Thursday, the front gate of Memorial Stadium was adorned with flowers, cards, banners and other memorials for O'Neal, 19, a redshirt freshman from suburban St. Louis who collapsed Tuesday at the end of an hour-long voluntary workout

Pinkel said he expects the team will organize a Columbia memorial service for the player, but no details were available Thursday. Friends and family in St. Louis also want a memorial service there in addition to the funeral, said Chad Moller, a Missouri athletics department spokesman.

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