PHOENIX (AP) Condolences poured in for retired NFL player Todd Heap and his family on Saturday, a day after police say the former Pro Bowl tight end accidentally ran over his 3-year-old daughter with a truck, killing her.
Heap was moving the truck at his home in Mesa, a Phoenix suburb, on Friday when he struck the girl, police said. She was pronounced dead at a hospital.
The Baltimore Ravens, Heap’s longtime former team, called the accident ”knee-buckling news and an overwhelming tragedy.”
Jay Feely, who played with Heap on the Arizona Cardinals, wrote on Twitter : ”My heart is broken for Todd Heap and his family. One of the kindest persons I’ve ever met and a man who lives for his family.”
Heap spent 10 seasons with the Ravens, who selected him in the first round out of Arizona State in 2001. He spent two seasons with the Cardinals before retiring with 42 career touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl after the 2002 and `03 seasons and was a second-team All-Pro in 2003.
Heap was inducted into the Raven’s Ring of Honor in 2014.
”We cannot imagine the heartbreak and sorrow Todd and Ashley’s family feels right now,” the Ravens said in a statement. ”We believe their deep faith and tremendous support from friends and family will help them through this unimaginable time.”
Heap is from a Mormon family that stretches its lineage to the early days of the faith. Since 2007, he and his wife have operated a foundation to help sick and disadvantaged children.
He talked about family being the most important thing in his life in a 2015 interview with Kevin Byrne , the Ravens’ senior vice president for public and community relations.
”I just got done jumping on the trampoline with my 2-year-old daughter,” Heap told Byrne, ”and it’s hard to get a bigger smile than that. I took all three of my boys golfing this morning. That was a lot of fun. (My wife) Ashley makes me smile every day. Family and all of the events we do, that regularly makes me smile.”
In a statement, the Cardinals called the death ”a grief that is beyond words and one which no family should experience. Hopefully the prayers, love and support of their incredible group of friends and family provide him the comfort that along with their strong faith will lead them through this unspeakably difficult time.”
Heap, 37, grew up in Mesa, led his high school football team to two state championships and was a standout at Arizona State before leaving early for the NFL.
”The Heaps have contributed so much to the Arizona State Sun Devils, Baltimore Ravens, and Arizona Cardinals communities, and we hope their family, friends and our respective communities can provide them with love and support as they work through this unspeakable heartbreak,” Arizona State said in a statement.
The Ravens chose Heap with the 31st overall pick in the 2001 draft, and he had some outstanding years with the team.
He is the Ravens’ career leader in touchdown receptions and is second in overall receptions and receiving yards.
Heap played for the Ravens through 2010. He signed with the Cardinals in 2011, played two games the following season and officially retired in 2013.
”Absolutely gutted for Todd Heap and his family,” Houston Texans star JJ Watt said in a tweet . ”Thoughts are with them in this incredibly tough time.”
Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Heap by telephone Saturday were unsuccessful.
Mesa police Detective Steve Berry said the investigation into the accident continues but that there are no suspicious circumstances and no signs of impairment.
The Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s office has not released the girl’s identity or ruled on a cause of death.
The child safety advocacy group KidsandCars.org said more than 800 children have been killed in the past two decades in instances in which a child in front of a vehicle wasn’t seen by the driver. The organization’s president, Janette Fennell, said blind zones in the front and back of cars cause such tragedies.
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver and Associated Press writer Sally Ho in Las Vegas contributed to this report.
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