Pneumonia Takes GV QB

By Ryan Jarvi | 8/18/13 5:01pm


GVL / Archive
Former Laker Quarterback, Cullen Finnerty, runs the ball against North Dakota during his senior season.

With mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of former Grand Valley State University championship quarterback Cullen Finnerty, recent autopsy results revealed that the athlete died from pneumonia caused by inhaling his own vomit.

Finnerty, 30, was fishing alone during a May evening near Baldwin, Mich., close to where his family owns a cabin. His body was found two nights later in the woods less than a mile from where he was dropped off by family members.

The autopsy, performed by the Kent County Medical Examiner, found that Finnerty had elevated oxycodone toxicity levels, which may have contributed to his confusion the night he disappeared. Finnerty was prescribed the medication for back injuries.

The report also stated that Finnerty was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease found in people with a history of brain trauma.

“A likely sequence of events on the night of death includes anxiety, disorientation and paranoia from being alone in the woods when he was not met as expected after fishing,” Stephen Cohle, chief county medical examiner, stated in the report. “These emotions could have been exacerbated by an elevated oxycodone level combined with CTE. He became incapacitated, vomited and inhaled the vomitus, which caused pneumonia.”

Though Finnerty’s family members mentioned he had consumed a number of alcoholic drinks the day he disappeared, the autopsy report stated that Finnerty’s blood alcohol level was “negligible and did not contribute to his incapacitation.”

Authorities said Finnerty had called his family members on the phone the night he disappeared and said he was concerned that people were following him.

His wife, Jennifer, told investigators that her husband has had paranoid attacks before—at one time he drove 150 miles from Detroit to Grand Rapids because he thought the FBI was following him.

Finnerty led GVSU’s football team to multiple NCAA Division II championships in 2003, 2005 and 2006 and became one of the most successful quarterbacks in college history. He left behind two children.

A ‘Grand’ Effort

Matt Mitchell, head coach of GVSU’s football team, organized a search-crew, which included current and former team members and staff of the football program, to join authorities in an effort to find Finnerty.

Tim Nott, associate athletic director at GVSU, said that decision was a natural reaction.

“When you’re part of a close-knit unit like a football team, and the history this program has built over the years, it wouldn’t matter if it was Cullen,” Nott said. “It wouldn’t matter if it was a guy that didn’t really see the field. The football alums are a very close-knit group (and) they take care of each other.”
The ‘Legend’

Brad Iciek, former quarterback for GVSU who knew Finnerty and was involved in the search, said it was like going on a mission.

“You’re a team, you’re still a team, you’re always a team,” Iciek said. “Once a Laker, always a Laker. And that’s how it was. We had no doubt in our mind that we were going to find him, and we were going to stay up there until we did.”

Many people said Finnerty had a great personality and loved to laugh.

Blake Smolen, former wide receiver for GVSU, said Finnerty threw him his first touchdown pass.

“He’s going to live here at Grand Valley forever,” Smolen said. “The guy is a legend, you can’t say anything else. The stuff he did here is just, I mean, it hasn’t been done anywhere else in the country at any level. I don’t care what you say—the guy, he’s a legend.”

Bill Brechin, current GVSU wide receivers coach, was also a teammate of Finnerty’s.

“Had he not won three championships, had he not had the success that he had on the field, we still would have all came together and looked for him,” Brechin said. “This was above football. This was above anything that the football program has done. This was about Cullen Finnerty and the person he was.”

The Play Compete Help Foundation is holding the Cullen Finnerty Memorial Golf Scramble at The Meadows golf course of GVSU on Aug. 30. Proceeds will go to benefit Finnerty’s family.
For more information on the golf scramble, visit

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