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Bono's death caused by massive head injuries

Fatal tree
Bono's body was found near this clump of trees
In this story: January 6, 1998
Web posted at: 5:47 p.m. EST (2247 GMT)

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, California (CNN) -- An autopsy on the body of U.S. Rep. Sonny Bono, the former singer and TV performer who was killed in a skiing accident Monday, revealed that he died of massive head injuries.

Douglas County, Nevada, Sheriff Ron Pierini said at a news conference Tuesday that Bono's death "was caused by massive head injuries due to blunt force trauma" from hitting a tree. He said death was "immediate."icon 204K/18 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

"There was no indication other persons were involved," Pierini said, adding, "It's very tragic for Sonny Bono."

A look back at the life of Sonny Bono
icon 1 min. 45 sec. VXtreme video

Bono's body was found late Monday afternoon in a narrow, wooded area between two ski runs at the Heavenly Ski Resort. The resort straddles the Nevada-California state line, 55 miles south of Reno, Nevada, and the area where Bono's body was found is in Nevada.

Pierini said Bono had been skiing with his wife, Mary Whitaker, and their two children about 1:30 p.m. Monday, and skied on ahead after his wife stopped to help one of the children who had fallen.

John Wagnon, a spokesman for the resort, said Bono was skiing a well-groomed intermediate run known as Orion and that conditions were "ideal."

"The run is fairly wide-open ... tree-lined, much like any ski resort," Wagnon said. Another skier characterized the run as "an easy, intermediate run."

No eyewitnesses

Pierini said the accident happened about 2 p.m., but Whitaker assumed Bono was still skiing and didn't report him missing until 4:30 p.m. when she was unable to find him and he did not respond to numerous pages at the resort lodge.

The ski patrol found him about two hours later 25 feet off a well-groomed run in a small stand of trees. "He would have been extremely difficult to see unless you were looking for him or skiing in that area," Pierini said.

"Tree skiing" is popular with many skiers, and Pierini said Bono's family characterized him as an advanced skier.

"It's common for skiers to go into that area and out of it," Pierini said. Responding to a question from a reporter, he added, "It probably wasn't the best judgment of all, but that's what happened."

Pierini said there was no indication that Bono was under the influence of alcohol or any other substance, but that the results of those tests wouldn't be known for another three weeks.

Bono, who had been coming to the resort for 20 years, was on vacation with his wife and their two children, 6-year-old Chianna and 9-year-old Chesare.

Ski activity at the resort was reportedly light Monday, and Wagnon said, "We are not aware of any eyewitnesses."

Daughter issues statement

Bono's spokesman, Frank Cullen Jr., said Tuesday that Bono was "a very proficient skier. He skied frequently with his family."

Bono's wife is "very distraught, as are the children," Cullen said. "He enjoyed his family so much, it's so unfortunate that this happened."

Cher, Bono's former wife and musical partner, canceled an appearance in London at the opening of the Harrods Department Store January sale and flew back to the United States, a Harrods' spokesman said.

His daughter, Chastity Bono, media spokeswoman for GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, left Los Angeles for Palm Springs to be with other family members.

In a statement released to the media, she said, "Of course, I am deeply saddened by the loss of my father and hope the media will respect my family's privacy during this difficult time. Although my father and I differed on some issues, he was very supportive of my personal life and career and was a loving father. I will miss him greatly."

Two years ago, Bono received a deep gash on his chin after he and another skier collided at the Big Bear Lake area east of Los Angeles. He ended up with 11 stitches.

His death came less than a week after Michael Kennedy, the 39-year-old son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, was killed in a similar accident in Aspen, Colorado.

A friend of the family told CNN that the funeral would be held Friday in Palm Springs, but an employee at a local funeral home said arrangements are still being made. She said a news conference would probably be held Wednesday morning to announce the arrangements.


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