Fiancee says Henry jumped from pickup

Updated: January 5, 2010, 9:13 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Chris Henry's fiancée said Monday that she wasn't driving fast when Henry was fatally injured after she says he jumped out of the back of a moving pickup she was driving on Dec. 16.

"I think he thought maybe he was going to land. He was going to land right," Loleini (Leini) Tonga told ESPN Outside the Lines reporter John Barr in an interview, her first public comments about the day Henry died.

"I wasn't going fast. Maybe he was scared because he saw someone calling the police," Tonga said.

Henry was taken off life support in North Carolina on Dec. 17. The official cause of death was listed as blunt-force trauma. He was 26.

The traffic incident, which is still under investigation, followed a domestic dispute between Henry and Tonga at the Charlotte home owned by Tonga's parents, according to police. Tonga would not say what the couple argued about but did acknowledge that there was a verbal argument and that she wanted to leave the home.

Tonga told Barr that Henry jumped, rather than fell, from the back of the pickup.

"He jumped," she said. "He jumped. He jumped from the back of the car."

Tonga didn't give a specific speed, but she said she wasn't driving fast in the 35-mph zone. "I know I wasn't going fast at all because I was trying to drive slow because I knew he was in the back standing up," she said.

She also told Barr that she didn't stop because there was nowhere to stop on the road. The interview will air Sunday on Outside The Lines (9 a.m. ET, ESPN).

A neighbor, Lee Hardy, said on the day Henry died that he heard Henry say that if Tonga kept driving, he'd jump from the truck and kill himself. Tonga doesn't think that was the case.

"I have no idea what was going through his mind," she said. "But as far as him wanting to end his life, no, he had too much going on. I know he wouldn't want to be gone away from his kids. He loves his kids. And everything was going really good. It's just that one day ..."

Henry was in North Carolina, where he had been recovering from a broken forearm that ended his season, and planning for his March wedding with Tonga. Tonga denied media reports that the couple argued over wedding plans the day of Henry's death.

Police said Henry and Tonga got into an argument at the Tonga family home and she drove away on a curvy residential street in suburban Charlotte.

Henry jumped into the truck's bed. A 911 caller told a dispatcher she saw a shirtless man wearing a cast "beating on the back of this truck window."

Police said Tonga stopped to assist Henry when he fell about a half-mile from the home. Tonga and Henry had two children together, Chris Jr. and DeMarcus, and they also cared for Tonga's other child, Seini.

Henry also leaves behind a fourth child, his daughter Denalya, from a previous relationship.

Information from ESPN Outside the Lines reporter John Barr and The Associated Press is included in this report.

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