As Syracuse University prepared this week for what was anticipated to be the largest crowd to ever witness an on-campus college basketball game, news broke that head coach Jim Boeheim had struck and killed a pedestrian with his car.
Boeheim was driving on I-690 in upstate New York on Wednesday, only a couple hours removed from leading the Orange to a 69-49 win over 18th-ranked Louisville. In the process of swerving to avoid a stationery vehicle that was reportedly disabled by a previous accident, Boeheim struck one of the vehicle's four occupants, who by then was walking not far from the car. Jorge Jimenez, 51, was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
"Like all of you, I am deeply saddened by the news that a member of our Central New York community was tragically killed in an accident last night involving coach Jim Boeheim," read a statement issued Thursday by Syracuse University chancellor Kent Syverud, according to syracuse.com. "Coach Boeheim is understandably heartbroken by the loss of life. On behalf of our entire Syracuse University family, Dr. Ruth Chen and I extend our deepest condolences to the Jimenez family and all those grieving this terrible loss.''
Syracuse athletic director John Wildhack released his own statement: "We are saddened by the death of a member of our Central New York community. On behalf of Chancellor Kent Syverud and the entire Syracuse University community, we extend our deepest condolences to all impacted by this tragic accident. Coach Boeheim is in contact with local authorities and cooperating fully. Out of respect for those grieving, there will be no further comment at this time.''
The 74-year-old Boeheim — who has spent nearly his entire adult life at Syracuse as a student, player, assistant coach and head coach — released the following statement roughly 12 hours after the incident. "I am heartbroken that a member of our community died as the result of last night's accident. Juli and I extend our deepest sympathies to the Jimenez family. Out of respect for those involved, I will not be providing further comment at this time."
Questions of Boeheim's legal exposure swirled in the wake of the tragedy, with one headline at nj.com asking, "Will Syracuse's Jim Boeheim face criminal charges after killing man with car? Was alcohol involved?" But that same article then provided the answers, citing a statement issued by the Syracuse Police Department, which reads, in part:
As a result of that investigation so far, it was revealed that the victim was an occupant in a vehicle that had lost control on the highway striking a guard rail. The occupants then exited the vehicle and proceeded to walk on the highway within close proximity to that vehicle. An oncoming vehicle noticed the disabled car and tried avoiding the vehicle which was in the middle of the road. As a result, the driver, James Boeheim 74, of Fayetteville NY struck the victim who was standing on the side of the road. Both drivers remained on scene and are cooperating with this investigation. Field sobriety and alco-sensor tests for both drivers were negative for any signs of impairment.
While it appeared Boeheim would not face charges, among the immediate fallout was the decision by ESPN to cancel Saturday's scheduled visit to the Syracuse by the College GameDay team in the run-up to the Orange's game against Duke, which could set a single-game attendance record. The game itself will still be broadcast by ESPN.
"Due to the recent tragedy, and after careful consideration due to the celebratory nature of the show, ESPN’s College GameDay will originate from ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., this weekend, instead of at Syracuse University,'' read a statement from ESPN media relations representative Anna Negron, shared by syracuse.com. "We spoke with school officials and they understand the decision.''
In a statement shortly after ESPN’s announcement, Wildhack said, "We respect ESPN's decision to originate College GameDay from Bristol this weekend and appreciate their concern for our community during this difficult time."
As of this writing, it remained unclear whether Boeheim himself would attend the Duke game.