Autopsy is inconclusive on dead Chicago marathon runner

Medical examiner says more tests are needed. Firefighter from N.C. was trying to raise money for burn victims.

October 10, 2011

The Associated Press

CHICAGO — Initial autopsy results were inconclusive in the death of a North Carolina firefighter who died after collapsing 500 yards from the Chicago Marathon finish line.

Greensboro, N.C., firefighter Capt. William William Caviness (AP)The Cook County medical examiner's office reported Monday that further tests were needed to help determine why 35-year-old William Caviness died.

Paramedics at the race were able to get his heart beating again, but the Greensboro, N.C., man was pronounced dead at a Chicago hospital.

Chicago's weather was warm Sunday. But the marathon's medical director has said fewer marathoners sought medical treatment than in past years. Medical director George Chiampas said 54 runners were taken to hospitals this year, compared with 100 last year and 85 in 2008 under similar conditions.

Chicago Marathon officials said the course had enough fluids for runners, along with cooling misters and aid stations. A large number of medical personnel were positioned on the course's final mile and at the finish line area.

It was the second time in five years that a runner died at the race.

Chad Schieber, a 35-year-old Michigan police officer and father of three, died during the 2007 marathon in near-90 degree heat. An autopsy blamed his death on a heart condition called mitral valve prolapse, and authorities said tests showed no evidence he was dehydrated. That year, 174 runners were taken to local hospitals.

Friends and family in North Carolina mourned Caviness. He was a gentleman, a young man with old-fashioned manners who sought permission from his girlfriend's father before asking her to marry him, said his father-in-law, Bill Britt.

"That's something from a different age," Britt said from his home in Greensboro. "It was the most wonderful thing."

Caviness met his wife, Jenny, in high school, Britt said. They married in 1999 and had two children, ages 4 years and 10 months, whom Caviness would watch on his days off while Jenny was at her job.

"He was just a superb guy," Britt said. "He'd do anything in the world for anybody."

An avid runner, Caviness would sometimes run the 18 or so miles between his house and the fire station where he worked before an overnight shift, Britt said, and then he'd run the same distance home the next day.

"That's why he was trying to run the marathon," Britt said. "He was looking forward to qualifying in Chicago so he could run in the Boston Marathon."

Caviness' run in Chicago also was intended to raise money for the International Association of Fire Fighters Burn Foundation, a charity that helps burn victims, according to his local union.

"Will was a friend, a brother, and a leader in our department," said a statement from the Professional Firefighters of Greensboro Local 947. "He had an unwavering commitment to his family, his profession, and to the charitable work of the IAFF Burn Foundation. He will be greatly missed."

Chicago Marathon officials released a statement expressing condolences to Caviness' family, friends and colleagues.

"It's a terrible loss and we will be reaching out to the family at an appropriate time," said Diane Wagner, spokeswoman for Bank of America, the race's sponsor.