Griffin killed when car hit train last week

HOUSTON -- Former Minnesota Timberwolves forward
Eddie Griffin died last week when his sport utility vehicle collided with
a freight train in a fiery crash, the Harris County medical
examiner's office said Tuesday.

Investigators used dental records to identify Griffin, 25, who
began his tumultuous pro career with the Houston Rockets in 2001.
He was waived by the Timberwolves in March.

"The cause of death and manner of death, which also includes
toxicology results, is pending," said Beverly Begay, chief
investigator for the Harris County Medical Examiner's office.

Griffin, a five-year veteran who was the No. 7 pick in the 2001
NBA draft, had battled alcohol problems since coming out of Seton
Hall. He was suspended by the league for five games in January for
violating its anti-drug program.

"Basketball was never an issue with him. He needed more life
lessons, and unfortunately he was never able to reach his
potential," former Timberwolves coach Dwane Casey said.

Houston police said in a report that the driver of the SUV
ignored a railroad warning and went through a barrier before
striking the moving train about 1:30 a.m. Friday. The resulting
fire burned the SUV and the side of a railcar carrying plastic
granules, police said.

The driver's body was badly burned and there was no

"I was able this afternoon to get some dental records from the
one dentist he had gone to see in Houston, and they were able to
use that apparently to positively identify him," said Derek S.
Hollingsworth, an attorney who has represented Griffin in criminal

Hollingsworth said he spoke with Griffin's mother, who was
devastated by the news.

"Everybody tried to help him from the top to the bottom of the
organization," said Casey, who coached Griffin for 1½ seasons.
"He just couldn't get it straight. It's a tragic ending for a
beautiful kid. He had a beautiful heart."

"It was very, very sad news," said Tommy Amaker, who recruiting Griffin to Seton Hall and is now at Harvard. "It's been tough on everyone ... My heart goes out to his mother and family."

Casey said he hadn't talked to Griffin in five or six months but
he knew that Griffin was spending the summer trying to get back in
shape to play in Europe next season.

Casey said he regretted not having reached out to Griffin in the
past few months.

"The entire Minnesota Timberwolves organization is deeply
saddened by this tragic news. Eddie will be missed by everyone who
knew him," said Kevin McHale, vice president of basketball
operations for the team. "Our thoughts and prayers are with
Eddie's loved ones."

Casey said Griffin was "like a son to Kevin. Kevin really
enjoyed working with him and taking him under his wing."

Mark Madsen, a former teammate in Minnesota, said Griffin was a
mild-mannered person and "one of the best shot blockers and
defensive rebounders I've ever played with." He said Griffin will
be missed.

"Eddie Griffin is someone who was never a super loud or
boisterous guy in the locker room, but he was someone who everyone
loved in the locker room," Madsen said. "When he was doing well
on the court we were all so happy for him. And when he was
struggling, we were all struggling right there with him."

Griffin had a series of suspensions, court dates and missed
practices during his first two years in the NBA with Houston and
New Jersey. He spent time in the Betty Ford Center for alcohol
treatment in 2003-04.

Hollingsworth said he found Griffin to be kind and gentle --
behavior inconsistent with how the player was described in police

"He had a problem with alcohol, and I think that was a
medication for him, and I think that led to a lot of issues,"
Hollingsworth said.

Griffin, who played forward and center, signed with the
Timberwolves as a free agent before the 2004 season. He showed
enough promise as a shot-blocker and rebounder to be signed to an
extension, but was waived in March after playing in just 13 games
last season with the Wolves.

The Wolves put his locker right next to star Kevin Garnett,
hoping the former MVP could help straighten Griffin out.

Griffin put up some big numbers on occasion with the Wolves, but
continued to get into trouble off the court. He pleaded guilty last
season to inattentive driving after he hit a parked car while out
late one night in Minneapolis.

The Rockets released a statement saying the organization "is
devastated and saddened by this terrible tragedy. Our thoughts go
out to Eddie's family and friends during this very difficult

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report