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How did Tony Chua die?

By Beth Celis
Philippine Daily Inquirer

TWO DAYS IN A ROW I was at the wake of the late Tony Chua, team manager and board representative of Barako Bull in the PBA.

Tony died at the height of Tropical Storm ?Ondoy? Saturday night while trying to reach his home in Filinvest, Cainta, where his wife and three young daughters were trapped in rising floodwaters.

At the time of his death, Tony was in the thick of preparations for the grand presentation of this season?s PBA Hall of Fame awards.

* * *

?I was surprised to get a call from Tony at 3 a.m. Sunday, such an unholy hour,? Barako Bull owner George Chua related.

?It turned out that it wasn?t Tony calling but his driver. He said Tony died in a tragic accident.?

The driver went on to give George a full account of what happened that stormy night.

Dusk had fallen, the driver said, and Tony was in a hurry to get home to his family. However, traffic wasn?t moving, the rain didn?t look like it would stop, and the flood kept rising.

As the calls from his wife came more often, Tony got impatient.

He instructed his driver to park the car by the roadside. He alighted and urged his two companions?the driver and Jonere Peda, Barako Bull?s liaison officer?to do the same.

* * *

Sloshing through the flood, the trio started the long trek toward their destination, unmindful of the dangers lurking around them.

At this point, the chronology of events is muddled. Accounts of what transpired varied, although all of them came from just one source?the lone survivor and the only eyewitness, the driver.

According to one report, the trio had been walking for about two hours when a strong current engulfed them, sucking away Jonere, the smallest of the three.

All he and Tony could do, according to the driver, was watch helplessly as Jonere?s body bobbed up and down the waters for a while and then faded completely out of sight.

Fearing they might suffer the same fate, Tony and his driver decided to stop walking and to hold on to a tree. It was too late when they noticed an approaching truck loaded with lumber. Obviously, the truck driver didn?t see them either. Tony was hit smack in the face by the lumber that jutted out of the truck. He lost his grasp on the tree.

Exactly what happened after this is not too clear. It seems apparent, though, that Tony did not die from drowning.

Two doctors said he could have died of hypothermia after walking several kilometers in the cold waters. Or he could have suffered from internal hemorrhage after he was hit by the lumber.

He was bleeding from the ears.

?He was still alive when the driver caught up with him,? George said. ?The driver could still hear a faint heartbeat and he tried to resuscitate him with CPR. His last words were for the driver to take him home.?

* * *

It could not be verified if Tony was still alive when the driver remembered that they had left Tony?s bag hanging on a tree branch. Immediately, he returned to retrieve the bag containing checks and cash, said to amount to more than P1 million. Earlier, Tony had announced to the Barako team that they would be receiving their salary.

The driver, who used to work for cager Jimmy Alapag, turned over the bag, its contents intact, to Tony?s wife.

When he returned to the lifeless team official?s body, however, there were other people around him. His Rolex watch was missing.

* * *

George said he has not slept well since Tony died. They had been together for as long as he can remember. Ironically, it was not basketball but football that brought them together. Basketball, however, cemented their friendship.

The driver left for Cebu immediately after the tragedy.

Jonere?s body was fished out of the waters two days after the storm.

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