CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Chris Henry was no stranger to trouble.
Indeed, his multiple arrests during a 5-year NFL career were among the factors prompting the league to toughen its personal conduct policy.
But to hear his teammates tell it - even the team's owner - the Cincinnati Bengals receiver was determined to leave behind his troubled past and move ahead toward a bright future.
Tragically, his efforts were cut short when he died from injuries in what police said was a domestic dispute with his fiancée.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said the 26-year-old Henry died early yesterday, less than 18 hours after he fell off of the back of a pickup truck on a curvy residential street about eight miles northwest of downtown Charlotte.
The cause of death was not immediately released.
Henry was away from the Bengals after suffering a season-ending broken forearm in a game last month.
"We knew him in a different way than his public persona," Bengals owner Mike Brown said. "He had worked through the troubles in his life and had finally seemingly reached the point where everything was going to blossom. And he was going to have the future we all wanted for him. It's painful to us. We feel it in our hearts, and we will miss him."
Bengals receiver Andre Caldwell said: "People thought he was a bad guy, but he had a big heart."
Police provided few details about the investigation, other than that homicide detectives were assigned to the case.
Two 911 tapes released yesterday provided some clues. The first was from an unidentified woman who said she was following a yellow pickup truck.
"It's got a black man on it with no shirt on, and he's got his arm in a cast and black pants on," she told a dispatcher. "He's beating on the back of this truck window . . . I don't know if he's trying to break in or something. It just looks crazy. It's a girl driving it."
Just over a minute later, an unidentified man called 911 and said he saw a man "laying in the road" and "definitely unconscious."
Police spokeswoman Rosalyn Harrington wouldn't say if the woman, whom police would not identify, was present at the scene when police arrived.
Henry and his 25-year-old fiancée Loleini Tonga, who grew up in Charlotte and received a volleyball scholarship to North Carolina A & T, were raising three children. Tonga's MySpace page identifies herself as "Mrs. C. Henry" and featured a post from Tuesday talking about buying wedding rings.
"We are greatly saddened by today's tragic news about the loss of Chris Henry," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Chris' family, including his Bengals family."
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said: "It's a very difficult thing with his loss and a young life and one that won't ever get to reach its full potential."
Police said the domestic dispute began Wednesday at a home about a half-mile away from where Henry was found. He had jumped into the bed of the pickup as his fiancée was driving away from the residence, and at some point when she was driving "came out of the back of the vehicle," authorities said.
Two women who lived nearby said yesterday they saw Tonga and the pickup at the scene when police arrived. Cheryl Hoffman said she came out with a blanket when she saw Henry wasn't wearing a shirt.
"When I got to where he was laying on the ground out there he was very unresponsive, laying flat on the ground," Hoffman said. "He was foaming at the mouth, and I was very worried what was happening then."
When players received word Henry had died, quarterback Carson Palmer called them together in the locker room and said they should dedicate the game and rest of the season to Henry and the wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who died unexpectedly during the season.
The Bengals will wear a helmet sticker Sunday against San Diego to remember Henry, and Goodell requested clubs observe a moment of silence before each game.