David Bey once was a heavyweight boxer from Philadelphia who lost his shot at the world title in a bout against Larry Holmes in 1985 in Las Vegas. Last week, Bey, 60, who also worked as a pile driver even when he was in the ring, was fatally injured in a construction site accident in Camden.
"He was a gentleman at all times — not a mean bone in his body," said Tony Bianchini, a spokesman for the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, which represents pile drivers. "He was a man of God and would listen to Scriptures while he was working."
On Thursday, about 2:30 p.m., emergency workers were called to the Camden Towers construction site on Cooper Street where Bey was working for a subcontractor, AP Construction Inc. Bey, a pile driver with Local 179 and who had 37 years of construction experience, had been hit by a steel sheet pile. His wounds were fatal.
The Camden County Prosecutor's Office, which initially investigated the accident, would not provide details what happened at the site, referring questions to the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration. Authorities there confirmed there is an active investigation that could take up to six months to complete.
"It's a tragic accident," Bianchini said.
Bey spent more than three decades with the Wharf and Dock Builders and Pile Drivers. His father, Joe, and two brothers, Joe Jr. and Tom, were also pile drivers. Tom remains active in the industry, Bianchini said.
Bey, also known as "Hand Grenade," was inducted into the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame this year. As news of his passing spread, many remembered the prize fighter with tributes on Facebook. A woman from his church expressed her sadness online, writing that Bey was a devout believer and that she will treasure a pair of his gloves she had purchased at a church flea market. Another post described Bey as a family friend, and a "gentle giant," ending the post with "Father God send your Angels to comfort and keep his family in their time of grief in Jesus name. Amen!!!"
Bey's record as a professional between 1981 and 1994 was 18 wins, 11 loses, and 1 draw. During that time he lived his dream, fighting against the best of the best.
Bey, who once competed as a member of the U.S. All Army Boxing Team, made his professional debut in 1981, knocking out James "Buster' Douglas in the second round at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. At 14-0, he defeated Greg Page for the United States Boxing Association Heavyweight Championship.
His biggest fight came on the night of March 15, 1985, in Las Vegas, when he went up against Larry Holmes for the world heavyweight title.
Bey made a strong start but was knocked down twice and stopped by Holmes in the 10th round.
In an interview Tuesday, Holmes, who now lives in Palmer, Pa., said Bey was a good fighter who worked hard in the ring.
"David was tough," the former champ said. "He was a good fighter."
Holmes, who described Bey as always happy and always smiling, said he has stayed in touch with Bey over the years.
"Before I fought him, I thought he was a nice guy. After I fought him, I still thought he was a nice guy," Holmes said. "I can't say anything negative about about him."
For a while, Holmes said he too worked construction, but left the industry because it was too dangerous.
"When I was in the ring boxing, I knew what I was doing all the time," Holmes said. "In construction there was always a lot going on around you that you did not control."
Services are scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 23, with a viewing from 9 a.m to 10 a.m. at the the Pilgrim Baptist Church, 5930 Rising Sun Ave., Philadelphia. A service will follow at 11 a.m., according to Bianchini. The union spokesman said Bey is survived by his daughter, Leah Batie, and his granchildren, Kiyen and Bryson. Bey was one of nine siblings who grew up in the city.