The local track community is in mourning after University of North Carolina assistant track coach Antonio Pettigrew was found dead this morning in the back seat of his car on a bridge overpass in eastern Chatham County.
Pettigrew, 42, was about to enter his fifth season with the Tar Heels, coaching sprinters, hurdlers and relay teams. He also was a four-time national champion and 10-time All-American while spending 1991 and 1992 as a sprinter at St. Augustine's College.
He and his wife, Cassandra, have a son, Antonio Pettigrew Jr.
Friends who had been searching for Pettigrew after he failed to show up for work contacted sheriff's deputies after finding him in his car on a bridge on Highway 751 near Jordan Lake, according to a Chatham County Sheriff's news release.
Chatham County deputies and EMS found that Pettigrew was dead. The sheriff's report said there are indications Pettigrew may have taken the sleep aid Unisom, but it's unclear if this is what caused his death.
An autopsy was ordered by the local medical examiner. Sheriff's spokesman Maj. Gary Blankenship said officers have no reason to suspect foul play.
"Although we are still learning the circumstances, we are deeply saddened to learn of Antonio's death," said UNC athletic director Dick Baddour. "I was particularly impressed with the relationships he established with his student-athletes and the pride he took in representing the University of North Carolina. Our deepest condolences go out to Antonio's family, particularly his wife and son."
At St. Augustine's College, where he earned his degree in 1993, Pettigrew was a 10-time All-American and four-time Division II NCAA champion in the 400 meters. He later served as an assistant coach at St. Aug's and in May of 2003 was hired as head coach at Cardinal Gibbons High School.
He spent three years at Cardinal Gibbons, coaching boys and girls teams to state championships in track and field and cross country.
"We are all saddened and stunned by the news," said Gibbons athletic director Dean Monroe. "Antonio was one of the most positive people I have ever met. He always had something good to say. He will be remembered here as having an incredibly positive influence on our young men and women.
"It was a pleasure to be around him. He brightened the day of everyone he came in contact with."
Pettigrew also had a checkered past. In May of 2008, during the trial of former Raleigh-based coach Trevor Graham, he admitted that he had used human growth hormone and the oxygen-boosting drug EPO from 1997 to 2001.
The International Olympic Committee stripped Pettigrew and his teammates of their 2000 Olympic gold medals in the 4x400-meter relay. Pettigrew already had returned his medal. Graham was convicted of lying to federal investigators.
During the trial, Pettigrew already was a member of the UNC staff. Baddour consulted with faculty members, UNC administrators, investigators in the case and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency before deciding that Pettigrew would keep his job. Baddour said Pettigrew's remorse, willingness to speak out against drugs and cooperation with the investigation influenced the decision to retain Pettigrew.