Former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk did not have alcohol or drugs in his system when he died after leading police on a chase down the New York State Thruway, according to toxicology results revealed Wednesday.
Strzelczyk, 36, a West Seneca native, died Sept. 30 after driving 90 mph with state troopers trailing him for some 40 miles, including five miles in the wrong direction. The chase ended when Strzelczyk's Ford F-250 pickup smashed into a tanker truck and exploded east of Utica.
State troopers initially believed he was intoxicated, saying he threw a beer bottle out the window during the pursuit. They have since confirmed that it was a plastic pop bottle.
Strzelczyk's family and friends from the beginning disputed assumptions that he was intoxicated and instead thought he was having a mental breakdown.
They believe toxicology results confirmed their argument.
"It's just another block as we try to put everything together," his mother, Mary Joyce Strzelczyk, said Wednesday. "It adds another piece."
State Police Investigator James Hunt confirmed results of the toxicology exam Wednesday.
Several months before his death, he told longtime best friend Dan Horan that he had quit drinking and smoking marijuana.
"(The results) tell you it was his state of mind and where he was mentally," said Horan, a Buffalo police officer. "They are in line with how we knew each other. Right to the end, he was truthful. You have to love him even more. He was positive he cleared his body of marijuana and alcohol."
Strzelczyk's family and friends believe his erratic behavior was consistent with bipolar disorder, which disrupts thought processes, or another mental illness. In the weeks before his death, he experienced drastic mood swings and claimed he saw his late father. He spoke about demons that were chasing him. He told one friend that he was going to die. He told several people he needed to escape to "higher grounds." He disappeared from Pittsburgh at 2:30 a.m. Sept. 30, and died about six hours later.
Strzelczyk graduated from West Seneca West High in 1986 and played at the University of Maine before the Steelers selected him in 1990 NFL draft. He played nine seasons in the NFL.
His survivors include his ex-wife, Keana, and their two children.