Coast Guard coach had been suspended

HARTFORD, Conn. -- The women's basketball coach at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy who committed suicide earlier this month had been put on paid leave three days before his death amid an investigation by federal prosecutors, a school official has said.

Alex Simonka, 51, who was also director of the school's athletic association, was found dead in his car at the New London academy on March 14. The state medical examiner ruled he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Rear Adm. J. Scott Burhoe, the academy's superintendent, said in a statement that the Connecticut U.S. attorney's office has been investigating the Coast Guard Academy Athletic Association for several months.

The nature of the investigation is unclear. Neither academy officials nor a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office would comment.

"After an interview with Mr. Alex Simonka, certain information was revealed that warranted placing him on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of that investigation," Burhoe said in the statement first provided to The Day of New London on Monday.

Burhoe referred other questions to federal prosecutors. Tom Carson, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said Tuesday that he could neither confirm nor deny an investigation of Simonka or the athletic association.

The unincorporated association raises money for the academy's sports teams and spends about $1 million a year, said Petty Officer Ryan Doss, an academy spokesman. Half the money for the academy's intercollegiate athletic program comes from the association, while the other half comes from federal government appropriations.

The organization pays for assistant coaches' salaries, athletic equipment repairs, teams' travel costs, printing expenses, sports awards and other costs, Doss said. Revenues come from donations, ticket sales and merchandizing, he said.

Simonka, who was not paid for his work as the association's director, was also the academy's athletics business manager. He lived in the town of Ledyard with his wife and daughter, Doss said.

Simonka had served the Coast Guard and the academy for more than 30 years in various positions, both as an officer and a civilian employee, Burhoe said. He graduated from the academy in 1979, retired from active duty in 1999 and coached the women's basketball team for the past 16 years.

He was a three-sport athlete at the academy. He led the basketball team to its first NCAA tournament in 1978-79, and he still holds the football record for three touchdown receptions in a single game, according to his obituary in The Day.

"We are all deeply hurt by this tragedy," Burhoe said last week. "Those who knew Alex best saw his passion for helping others, and his interest in developing and inspiring future Coast Guard leaders."