Tennis: Gerulaitis poisoned by faulty gas heater

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The Independent Online
THE death of Vitas Gerulaitis appears to have been an accident caused by a faulty gas heater, police said yesterday in Southampton, New York. The level of carbon monoxide found in the cottage where the former tennis star died was said to have been 'off the scale'.

The 40-year-old Gerulaitis appears to have been the victim of fumes from a faulty propane heater which seeped into the heating and air conditioning system of a friend's home.

The Suffolk County medical examiner found traces of carbon monoxide during an autopsy on Monday. Investigators returned to the house where Gerulaitis' body was discovered on Sunday and found the gas. No official finding on the cause of death has been issued yet, and the medical examiner's office said further tests were being done.

When a servant entered the cottage on Sunday afternoon, the television was on and Gerulaitis was still wearing the clothes he had worn on Saturday morning at a tennis clinic. Police said that they did not know whether Gerulaitis was asleep when fumes swept through the house. He was alone and there were no signs of drugs or crime.

Instead, investigators found 'lethal levels' of carbon monoxide inside the building, near Shinnecock Bay. Police said that there was no history of carbon monoxide problems at the house.

Nancy Chaffee Whitaker, a former tennis player, saw Gerulaitis the day before his body was found. He had flown in from the west coast late on Friday night and arrived at the Racquet Club of East Hampton early the next morning for a charity tennis clinic.

Despite a sore back, a long trip and little sleep, Gerulaitis was in good spirits, she said. 'He looked good. He didn't look like he wasn't feeling well or that something was wrong. When the clinic ended he gave me a hug and said, 'I'll see you at seven',' when there was a dinner at the club.

Gerulaitis did not appear at the dinner, and the following afternoon a servant who went to the guest cottage to make the bed found his body just after 3pm. 'It appeared he had been there a while,' police sergeant Lars King said.