HOUSTON, Aug. 21 (AP) -- Former Minnesota Timberwolves forward Eddie Griffin died last week when his sport utility vehicle collided with a freight train in a fiery crash, the Harris County medical examiner's office said Tuesday.

Investigators used dental records to identify Griffin, 25, who began his tumultuous pro career with the Houston Rockets in 2001. He was waived by the Timberwolves in March.

The five-year veteran, who was the No. 7 pick in the 2001 NBA draft, had battled alcohol problems since coming out of Seton Hall. Griffin was suspended by the league for five games in January for violating its anti-drug program.

Houston police said in a report that the driver of the SUV ignored a railroad warning and went through a barrier before striking the moving train about 1:30 a.m. Friday.

The driver's body was badly burned and there was no identification.

"I was able this afternoon to get some dental records from the one dentist he had gone to see in Houston, and they were able to use that apparently to positively identify him,'' said Derek S. Hollingsworth, an attorney who has represented Griffin in criminal cases.

Hollingsworth said he spoke with Griffin's mother, who was devastated by the news.

Griffin had a series of suspensions, court dates and missed practices during his first two years in the NBA with Houston and New Jersey. He spent time in the Betty Ford Center for alcohol treatment in 2003-04.

Hollingsworth said he found Griffin to be kind and gentle - behavior inconsistent with how the player was described in police reports.

"He had a problem with alcohol, and I think that was a medication for him, and I think that led to a lot of issues,'' Hollingsworth said.

Griffin, who played forward and center, signed with the Timberwolves as a free agent before the 2004 season. He showed enough promise as a shot-blocker and rebounder to be signed to an extension, but was waived in March after playing in just 13 games last season with the Wolves.

The Wolves put his locker right next to star Kevin Garnett, hoping the former MVP could help straighten Griffin out.

Griffin put up some big numbers on occasion with the Wolves, but continued to get into trouble off the court. He pleaded guilty last season to inattentive driving after he hit a parked car while out late one night in Minneapolis.

Associated Press writers Matt Curry and Thomas Peipert in Dallas and AP sports writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.


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