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Heroin Blamed in Mark Tuinei Death

May 11, 1999

PLANO, Texas (AP) _ Former Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Mark Tuinei died accidentally of a combination of heroin and a stimulant, according to a report Tuesday from the Collin County medical examiner.

Plano police chief Bruce Glasscock said he believes Tuinei had never used heroin before.

``What you had was a 39-year-old male, 6-5, in excess of 300 pounds, a healthy individual, took one shot of heroin and basically dropped dead as a result,″ Glasscock said.

Tuinei died Thursday morning. According to a police affidavit, Cowboys running back Nicky Sualua said Tuinei bought a small amount of heroin the previous evening and passed out after taking the drug at a North Dallas apartment.

``Tuinei lost consciousness almost immediately and stopped breathing,″ Glasscock said.

Sualua told police he revived Tuinei and drove to Tuinei’s home, where both men fell asleep in the car. Sualua said when he woke up the next morning, Tuinei was not breathing and had no pulse.

Tuinei’s wife, Pono, who was in Hawaii at the time of her husband’s death, said his heroin use ``came as a complete shock to me.″

``My heart is filled with sadness, confusion and disbelief,″ she said in a statement issued by her lawyer. ``If Mark could speak to us now, his wish would be that lessons be learned from his death so that similar unnecessary tragedies could be prevented in the future.″

Glasscock said there have been no arrests in connection with Tuinei’s death. He declined to say whether Sualua was in legal jeopardy, saying the case would be turned over a North Texas task force of the U.S. Attorney’s office. He said Texas law has no provisions to prosecute Sualua for failing to seek immediate medical assistance for Tuinei.

The affidavit that described Tuinei’s last night was filed so police could convince a Collin County judge to issue a warrant for officers to search the ex-player’s Plano home. Glasscock said police found a marijuana pipe, a marijuana cigarette and a tablet that appeared to be Ecstasy, a mood-enhancing stimulant.

Glasscock said the police investigation determined Tuinei had been using Ecstasy heavily for two weeks. The coroner’s report found traces of methylenedioxyamphetamine, similar to Ecstasy, in his bloodstream.

Glasscock said the investigation did not indicate any other Cowboys were with Tuinei during his last night. He also said Sualua, to his knowledge, was never tested for drugs.

Tuinei spent 15 years with the Cowboys, playing on three Super Bowl championship teams and earning two trips to the Pro Bowl as a 320-pound left tackle.

Former Cowboys defensive back Everson Walls said the heroin involvement by a player who had been perceived as clean-cut during his playing days is another black mark for a team that has endured several drug-related suspensions in recent years.

``I think the Cowboys just really have to learn that throughout their organization they have always had problems,″ Walls said. ``But at the same time, the Cowboys have done a lot of good things within the organization. It’s just another bad mark on the record.″

A funeral is scheduled for Thursday in Hawaii, where his wife returned after coming to Dallas for a memorial service Saturday.

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