Autopsy reveals heart abnormality

By Carl Dubois
July 30, 2002


Wally Pontiff

BATON ROUGE, La.-Louisiana State baseball player Wally Pontiff likely died from an abnormality in his heart, according to a coroner's report released Monday.

An autopsy of Pontiff, a 21-year-old who was found dead in his bed at his family's home in suburban New Orleans last Wednesday, revealed the abnormality. Forensic investigators said they will need to study the results further to identify the official cause of death.

Complete toxicology studies on Pontiff found nothing out of the ordinary, investigators said, revealing no illegal drugs, no prescription drugs and no over-the-counter drugs in his system.

Dr. Robert E. Treuting, coroner for the Jefferson Parish Forensic Center, released a three-paragraph statement about the autopsy conducted on Pontiff last Thursday, the day after he died in his sleep in Metairie. The news release said there was no evidence of foul play and listed the manner of Pontiff's death as natural.

“An abnormality was found in the heart,” the report said, “but final diagnosis is being deferred until microscopic examination is complete. When these studies are complete, the cause of death will be released.”

According to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, a member of Pontiff's family tried unsuccessfully to wake him and called 911 for help. Paramedics were unable to revive him, and he was declared dead at 9:36 a.m., the coroner's office said.

A spokesman at the coroner's office said it could be weeks before the official cause of death is determined. The lead investigator who performed the autopsy was unavailable for comment.

Pontiff played three seasons at LSU and was a team captain and spokesman. A popular player with fans and teammates, he was trying to decide whether to return to LSU for his senior season or sign with the Athletics, who selected him in the 21st round of the draft last month.

Carl Dubois is a sportswriter for The Advocate in Baton Rouge.