Five-time world champion in serious condition

Updated: March 13, 2007, 9:34 PM ET
Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE -- While five-time world champion Johnny Tapia was upgraded to serious condition Tuesday after being hospitalized in an apparent cocaine overdose, his family was mourning the loss of the boxer's brother-in-law.

State police said Robert Gutierrez, 39, was killed along with another man early Tuesday when the vehicle they were in went off a highway in northwestern New Mexico and rolled, ejecting both men. Family members said Gutierrez was returning to Albuquerque.

AP Photo/Jake SchoellkopfJohnny Tapia's latest problem comes just over two weeks after he won a majority decision in a fight billed as Tapia's farewell performance.

Tapia, who turned 40 last month, was taken Monday to Presbyterian Hospital after paramedics responded to an early morning call about someone who wasn't breathing at a hotel room.

Officer Trish Hoffman, spokeswoman for the Albuquerque Police Department, said it appeared to be an overdose and that Tapia would be charged with possession of a controlled substance.

Police discovered a plastic bag containing a white substance. Hoffman said tests confirmed it was cocaine.

Tapia has a history of cocaine use and run-ins with the law.

The latest episode came some two weeks after he won a majority decision over Evaristo Primero of El Paso, Texas. Tapia, whose record is 56-5-2, billed that fight as his farewell to the ring.

In pre-fight remarks, Tapia said his hard-living days were behind him and described how his three children had firmly grounded his life. But in the same interview, Tapia's old personality resurfaced.

"Every day, I'm doing good. But if I want to go drink right now, I can," he said. "Nobody tells me what I can do or what I want to do. I'm trying to do for my family and myself, but if I want to go party, I'll party."

Tapia was banned from boxing for 3½ years in the early 1990s because of his cocaine addiction. He spent six months in rehabilitation in 2003 after a collapse at home and later that year police said he overdosed on prescription pills.

It's has been a hard life outside the ring for Tapia, who was orphaned at 8, his mother stabbed 26 times with a screwdriver. He never knew his father and has battled cocaine addiction, alcohol, depression and numerous run-ins with the law.

In his book "Mi Vida Loca," Tapia said he's been declared clinically dead six times.

Inside the ring, Tapia won five titles in three weight classes, celebrated victories with a backflip and was beloved by New Mexico boxing fans. Tapia won the WBA bantamweight title, the IBF and WBO junior bantamweight titles and the IBF featherweight belt.

State Police Lt. Rick Anglada said the accident involving Tapia's brother-in-law and Ben Garcia, 23, happened before dawn Tuesday on U.S. 550 about 50 miles south of Bloomfield.

"They went off the road and overcorrected to the left and skidded across all the lanes of traffic and went off the road and began to overturn," Anglada said, noting that the vehicle vaulted over a fence and down an embankment.

Anglada said neither man was wearing a seat belt and alcohol may have been a factor. Investigators found empty bottles and partially consumed bottles at the scene; they were awaiting toxicology test results on both men.

Because Gutierrez and Garcia were ejected, Anglada said investigators were trying to determine who was driving.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press