Former Timberwolves forward Eddie Griffin was killed last week in a collision between his sport-utility vehicle and a train, the Harris County (Texas) Medical Examiner's office confirmed Tuesday.
Griffin, who spent nearly three seasons with the Wolves before he was waived in March, died in the fiery crash on Friday. A Houston police report said that Griffin, 25, drove his vehicle past a railroad crossing barrier and into the moving freight train at about 1:30 a.m. Dental records had to be used to identify him.
"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.
The troubled Griffin was suspended by the NBA on Jan. 12 after he violated the league's substance abuse policy.
He did not play again following that five-game benching and was waived by the Wolves on March 13, late in a season in which he played only 13 games and averaged 1.4 points and 1.9 rebounds per game.
Griffin, who signed a three-year, $8.1 million contract before the 2005-06 season, played his last game for the Wolves on Dec. 13. He returned to his home in the Houston area, and former Wolves coach Dwane Casey told the Associated Press that Griffin was preparing to play in Europe this season.
"He was a great young guy who came to work every day and was fun to be around," said Wolves guard Trenton Hassell, who played with Griffin for each of his three seasons in Minnesota. "It's a sad, sad thing."
Wolves forward Mark Madsen said he hoped Griffin would be remembered less for his mistakes than for the gentle, likable side he showed to teammates.
"There was so much more to Eddie Griffin than the negative things out there," Madsen said. "There were infinitely more positive things about him as a human being that we saw daily.
"He was a lot of fun, very even-tempered, mild-mannered, consistent. This is a very emotional time."
Kevin McHale, the Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations, issued an e-mail statement of condolence.
"The entire Minnesota Timberwolves organization is deeply saddened by this tragic news," the statement said. "Eddie will be missed by everyone who knew him."
The crash ended a life in which flashes of great promise on the court were frequently undone by bad behavior off it. Griffin, a 6-10 power forward, came to the Wolves in October 2004 after alcohol abuse, arrests, suspensions and violations of team rules marred stops in Houston and New Jersey.
When he signed a one-year deal with the Wolves as a free agent, the team hoped he would start fresh. He was given a locker next to Kevin Garnett, in the hope that the Wolves star could help Griffin. After averaging 7.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots in 70 games in 2004-05, Griffin signed a three-year contract extension.
The following season, he reverted to his old ways. Griffin crashed his car into a parked vehicle in Minneapolis in March 2006 and entered a nearby convenience store; employees said Griffin told them he was drunk. Griffin pleaded guilty to inattentive driving. The car's owner sued Griffin and the city of Minneapolis.
Griffin averaged 4.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 2005-06.
The seventh overall pick in the 2001 NBA draft, he bolted from Seton Hall to the NBA at age 19 and soon began frustrating coaches, teammates and fans with his erratic behavior. He combined outside shooting ability with strong inside play as a rookie with Houston, but things soon unraveled.
Despite his problems, many of Griffin's teammates spoke kindly of him during his time with the Wolves.
"Some guys go through a lot of things," Hassell said. "All I could do was pray for him. But I can say I was never disappointed in Eddie."