California

Marathoner accused of cheating found dead in L.A. He had been banned from CIM in Sacramento

Runners start the California International Marathon on Dec. 4, 2016, in Folsom. Runner Frank Meza was banned from the race after he was disqualified in 2014 and 2016. Meza, 70, was found dead at the Los Angeles River on Thursday.
Runners start the California International Marathon on Dec. 4, 2016, in Folsom. Runner Frank Meza was banned from the race after he was disqualified in 2014 and 2016. Meza, 70, was found dead at the Los Angeles River on Thursday. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Marathoner Frank Meza was found dead Thursday in a Los Angeles waterway days after his record setting run in this year’s Los Angeles Marathon was erased amid cheating allegations

He had been banned from a Sacramento marathon three years ago after similar charges emerged in his two races in California’s capital area.

The 70-year-old runner died at 10:05 a.m. Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reported. His body was found on the bed of the Los Angeles River near the Riverside-Figueroa Bridge, Los Angeles County coroner’s officials told the Times.

How Meza died is yet unknown, but first responders were called minutes earlier to a report of a possible jumper, according to the Times report.

A doctor and retired cross-country and track coach at Loyola High School in Los Angeles, Meza co-founded the Aztlan Track Club. The East Los Angeles running club founded in 1974 is now Aztlan Athletics, which oversees running events across Southern California, according to information on its website.

It wasn’t the first time Meza’s runs generated controversy and led to disqualification. His two runs at the California International Marathon in Sacramento in 2014 and 2016 were similarly wiped off the books before he was banned permanently in 2016.

A California International Marathon spokeswoman expressed sorrow at Meza’s sudden death.

“So very sad to hear about the passing of Frank Meza,” spokeswoman Danielle Domenichelli said via email Friday.

Meza had posted a time of 2:53:33 at the 2014 California International Marathon, or CIM – a personal best, the Washington Post reported Friday. But Meza’s performance soon ran afoul of race officials, Domenichelli told the Bee.

“The 2014 CIM time was removed from results. There was an article or two published with him listed with a 2014 CIM time before results were stamped official and before we realized he should be disqualified,” Domenichelli said.

Los Angeles race officials in a June 28 statement rejected Meza’s run at the 2019 Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon. And race officials at the recent 2019 Sprouts Mesa-Phoenix Marathon in Arizona are now investigating Meza’s times in that race, Los Angeles’ KABC-TV reported this week.

Officials in Los Angeles determined Meza re-entered the course “from a position other than where he left it,” and posted a faster than world record 5-kilometer time for his 70-74 age group. His final time of 2:53:10 was also a record for a 70-year-old man, the Times reported.

But officials said video and witness evidence combined with their own race calculations led them to disqualify the Los Angeles runner.

“An impossible feat during a marathon,” Los Angeles Marathon officials concluded.

Meza maintained his was a legitimate run.

“I didn’t cut the course,” he told the Times on Monday.

Runners in the 2016 California International Marathon describe their experiences on the course, which begins in Folsom and ends at the Capitol.

The Ohio-based running news website marathoninvestigation.com dissected several years of Meza’s runs displaying a half-dozen images from Los Angeles races in 2015, 2017 and 2019 that appeared to show Meza off-course. In another image, taken during the 2014 San Francisco International Marathon, a man is seen riding a bicycle beside competing runners.

Marathoninvestigation suggested the bike rider was Meza.

Meza called the allegations “pretty traumatic” in an interview with the Los Angeles Times in the days before his death and said his sharply improved times were a product of training.

On Friday, Derek Murphy, whose marathoninvestigation.com examined Meza’s performances and race times, said in a statement on the site that he 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,” Murphy wrote. “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.”

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Darrell Smith covers courts and California news for The Sacramento Bee. He joined The Bee in 2006 and previously worked at newspapers in Palm Springs, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Marysville. A Sacramento Valley native, Smith was born and raised at Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville.
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