8th-grader dies after collapse

Eric Valdez, 14, attended Costa Mesa Middle School. Coroners may take weeks before a cause of death is determined, officials say.

March 11, 2010|By Tom Ragan

An eighth-grader collapsed and died Wednesday after playing handball at Costa Mesa High School, Newport-Mesa Unified School District officials said Thursday.

Eric Valdez collapsed about 4:30 p.m., district spokeswoman Laura Boss said. He was 14 and attended Costa Mesa Middle School, which shares a campus with the high school at 2650 Fairview Road.

The Costa Mesa Police Department responded and began CPR on Valdez, Boss said.

The boy, who lived in Costa Mesa, was transported by city firefighters to an area hospital, where doctors could not revive him, she said.


A news release issued by Newport-Mesa stated that “the coroner has determined the cause as an unexpected natural death.”

However, an autopsy will seek to determine the exact cause of death, said Daniel Akin, a supervising deputy coroner with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

“An autopsy was inconclusive, pending toxicology and microscopic exams,” he said.

Akin said “it’s going to be weeks” before the coroner’s office determines a cause of death.

The boy’s family could not be reached for comment.

A sibling of the boy also attends Costa Mesa Middle School, according to the district, which dispatched counselors to help classmates cope with his death.

Valdez arrived at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, in Newport Beach, at 5:04 p.m. and was pronounced dead at 6:21 p.m., Akin said.

Principal Aaron Peralta said Valdez’s teachers and friends are struggling to cope with the boy’s death.

“He was a really neat kid,” Peralta said. “And we’re dealing with the aftermath today. This is a huge loss for us.”

Peralta said the 14-year-old was 6 feet tall and weighed about 200 pounds.

“But he didn’t carry himself like a 200-pound guy,” Peralta said. “He was always good-natured and smiling. All his teachers loved him, which was telling of his great nature. We don’t have any information to substantiate that there was an accident or an injury or alcohol or drugs; none of that entered into the picture.”

Valdez loved handball and played it often, Peralta said.

Peralta added that the sport has been organized with the support of the school’s security staff.

Valdez also developed a close relationship with all his teachers, especially English teacher Eunice Hooker, who was his mentor.

“They’d meet often after school in a mentorship role,” Peralta said.

Peralta said that the school would like to remember Valdez in a special way, and that he’s looking forward to gathering input from the community and close friends.

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