LANSING, Mich. — A former Division II college football star who disappeared in the Michigan wilderness during a late-evening fishing trip died of pneumonia caused by inhaling his vomit, according to an updated autopsy released today.
The report also suggests Cullen Finnerty’s disorientation and paranoia in the woods May 26 may have been exacerbated by a combination of the painkiller oxycodone and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
The degenerative brain disease has been found in a number of ex-football players. Finnerty’s brain was studied at Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, according to the report.
Kent County Chief Medical Examiner Stephen Cohle said Finnerty, 30, became incapacitated before inhaling his vomit in Lake County 65 miles north of Grand Rapids.
Though relatives reported the former Grand Valley State University quarterback had a number of alcoholic drinks the day he died, Cohle said his blood-alcohol level was “negligible” and didn’t contribute to Finnerty’s incapacitation.
The report says it’s likely Finnery had anxiety, disorientation and paranoia from being alone in the woods while waiting for in-laws to pick him up. The emotions could have been exacerbated by an “elevated” oxycodone level combined with CTE, according to the report.
An initial autopsy conducted the morning after Finnerty’s body was found said he had a “slightly enlarged heart and slightly cloudy lungs” but “no trauma to the body at all.” The final report includes toxicology results and the finding that he had CTE.
Finnerty’s wife told investigators it wasn’t the first time he had a “paranoid” episode. Instead of driving home from Detroit a year-and-a-half earlier, he took off for Grand Rapids in western Michigan due to fears the FBI would follow him, she said. According to Jennifer Finnerty, her husband remained in a state of panic for four to five days.
Cullen Finnerty, his brother-in-law and father-in-law went fishing the night of May 26 . The Brinks dropped off Finnerty around 8:30 p.m. and watched as he boarded a small personal inflatable pontoon boat and floated down stream.
The plan was for the Brinks to pick up Finnerty in about 30 minutes, but as it turned out, it was the last time they would see him alive. His body was found May 28 within a mile of where he had disappeared.
Finnerty originally accepted an offer to play at the University of Toledo but transferred to Grand Valley after redshirting in 2001.