A veteran marathoner who had been dogged by accusations of cheating that he steadfastly denied was found dead in the Los Angeles River on Thursday, according to authorities and his family.
A cause of death has not been determined for Frank Meza, 70, a doctor who had been disqualified from the Los Angeles Marathon just days earlier.
His wife, Tina, told The Daily Beast that he had been devastated by the allegations that he had cut the course in several races.
“Running was very important to my husband. He had been running marathons for the last 30 or 40 years. He was very fast, quite fast, and now unfortunately he won’t run marathons anymore,” she said.
She said that on Thursday morning, Meza told her he was going out for a run. “I said, ‘It will be good for you,’ and he said, ‘I‘ll see you later,’” she said.
At around 10 a.m., according to KABC, rescue workers found Meza in the river. “That’s all we know,” she said.
His death brought a tragic end to a months-long controversy over his record-setting time in the March marathon and in numerous other races.
In L.A., Meza crossed the finish line in 2 hours, 53 minutes, winning his age category and setting off alarm bells for armchair marathon sleuths.
In May, Derek Murphy published an analysis of a slew of races run by Meza, including photos that raised questions about whether he was a course-cutter—someone who jumps out of the race and uses a faster mode of transportation before sneaking back in toward the end.
Meza denied it. In an interview with Canadian Running magazine, he admitted leaving the course but said it was innocent.
“What I can tell you is that I did not cut. My last few marathons I have had to step off the course, looking for a place to pee. I didn’t know this was against the rules, I was not aware of that,” he said. “I’ve done this several times. I’ve realized my problem is that I don’t hydrate properly. I have never cut the distance but I have stepped off of the course.”
His case became the subject of heated debate in the running community. Then on July 1, the organization that runs the L.A. Marathon completed its review and disqualified Meza.
“The video evidence is confirmed by a credible eyewitness report and our calculation that Dr. Meza’s actual running time for at least one 5K course segment would have had to have been faster than the current 70-74 age-group 5K world record,” it stated
Meza continued to deny cheating, telling the Los Angeles Times that he hoped to run the marathon again in 2020 to vindicate himself.
On Thursday, Murphy’s site posted new evidence against Meza, a photo of what he said was Meza riding a bike on the sidelines of the 2014 San Francisco Marathon. The picture was blurry, but Murphy noted that the biker was wearing the same hat, sneakers and bright socks as Meza was when he finished the race first in his age group.
The marathon runner was found dead on the same day.
In a statement, Murphy said was “deeply saddened” to learn of Meza’s death.
“My heart goes out to his family and friends, and I wish for everyone to be respectful and to keep his loved ones in mind,” he said. “There will be a time for comment and a broader discussion, but at this point, I feel that we should all allow those close to Frank the space to grieve.”
Meza’s wife said the accusations were so damaging to her husband because his identity was so wrapped up in running.
“They were all manufactured lies,” she said. “And he couldn’t figure out why people were willing to listen to this.”
“We don’t understand why he was attacked,” she added. “He was just a soft-spoken, nice person. It hurt him deeply. I still don’t understand it.”
She said that he ran two hours a day, often through the hills. He also taught his patients how to run. “He loved the freedom of it,” she said.
She said neighbors in South Pasadena filled their house today, and friends were flying in from all over the country.
“He has two children and three grandchildren who will miss him very much,” she said.