Ex-Dallas lineman Tuinei, 39, found dead

He's discovered in car

cause of death unknown


PLANO, Texas -- Mark Tuinei, the former Pro Bowl lineman who shared a record for tenure with the Dallas Cowboys, was found dead shortly before sunrise yesterday, slumped over the steering wheel of his car outside his home in this Dallas suburb. He was 39.

"It's shocking for all of us," said defensive line coach Jim Bates, after a voluntary team workout was canceled when the news of Tuinei's death reached the Cowboys' Valley Ranch headquarters. "He was in the weight room last week. He was in great shape. It's just a shock."

The cause of death was not immediately known, but Plano Police Chief Bruce Glasscock said there was no evidence that alcohol, drugs or foul play was involved.

"We're treating it like any other unattended death," Glasscock said.

However, he said, investigators were trying to determine how Tuinei spent the last 24 hours of his life "in an effort to find someone who can provide us with any information. We do know Mr. Tuinei was in Dallas last night."

There were reports that Tuinei had gone out with friends Wednesday night and that they had taken him home and left him in his car after he passed out.

Late Thursday afternoon, police spokesman Carl Duke said investigators had "talked to several people" but had not confirmed Tuinei's activities Wednesday. Among those the police interviewed was Cowboys backup full- back Nicky Sualua.

Police had expected a preliminary report from the medical examiner's office by yesterday afternoon but later were told no information would be available until next week.

At a news conference earlier in the day, Glasscock said an unidentified friend received a call early yesterday and was told to check on Tuinei. When the friend arrived, he found Tuinei in his car and called 911.

Paramedics attempted unsuccessfully to revive Tuinei, who was then taken to Medical Center of Plano. Doctors worked on him for a half hour, a hospital spokeswoman said, before pronouncing him dead at 6: 54 a.m.

He was not known to have had a life-threatening medical condition, the chief said.

At 6 feet 5 and 320 pounds, Tuinei was considered one of the toughest players in the NFL during his 15 years with the Cowboys, a career in which he played for three Super Bowl championship teams and made two Pro Bowl appearances.

He came to the Cowboys as a free agent from Hawaii in 1983 and landed a job as a defensive lineman under coach Tom Landry. He later was moved to the offensive line and became a starter in 1987.

His work at left tackle was credited with being a major factor in making the Cowboys three-time Super Bowl champions.

"There is a sense of tremendous sadness," Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman said, speaking of the mood at team headquarters.

Tuinei was preparing to return to Hawaii next week to begin a new job as offensive line coach at Punahou High School, his alma mater.

"He never seemed healthier or happier about going home," said his friend, Will Morris, also a graduate of Punahou High. "He was as happy as can be."

Tuinei's wife, Pono, was already in Hawaii, Morris said.

In the final years of his football career, Tuinei was hampered by chronic knee problems. During the 1997 season, he played only seven games because of a sprained left knee and surgery to repair bone damage to his right knee.

He was released by the Cowboys before the beginning of summer camp in 1998. His 15-year tenure with the team is a record he shared with former safety Bill Bates and former defensive end Ed "Too Tall" Jones.

Pub Date: 5/07/99

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.