High School Sports

Bradenton Christian School coach found dead at his home

MANATEE -- On Tuesday night, coach Donald Vautrinot was cheering on the Bradenton Christian School’s girls varsity basketball team as it scored in a home game.

“He was so happy that all of the girls worked together as a unit,” said Gene Brown, a parent of one of the players. “That’s what made us parents proud.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Vautrinot’s two daughters found him lying unconscious at their Bradenton home on a weight bench with a barbell and 260 pounds of weights resting on his chest.

Vautrinot, basketball coach, West Bradenton Baptist Church member and married father of three, died Wednesday at his home.

Vautrinot -- known as Don -- was supposed to pick up his two daughters at school. But he didn’t show up. The girls called their dad, but Vautrinot didn’t answer.

Someone from the school dropped them off at their home in the 3600 block of Second Avenue West. Once inside, Katie, 12, and Lauren, 10, searched for their dad. Upstairs, they found him in his workout room, the weights sitting on his chest, said Terry Farnham, Vautrinot’s father-in-law. They called 911.

A dispatcher told them to remove the weights. The two girls lifted them all off their dad.

But when paramedics arrived, it was too late. Vautrinot, 41, was pronounced dead.

Next-door neighbor Jennifer Pullen had just pulled into their block when she spotted the two girls outside with another neighbor.

“I was praying with them, and they were hysterical,” she said.

Pullen said she knew Vautrinot for about five years. He occasionally came over to her house to help with repairs, from switching out old fans to installing light fixtures.

Erin Williams, another neighbor, said Vautrinot wouldn’t let his neighbors pay for any repairs.

“He just did it because he wanted to help,” Williams said. “We’re going to miss him.”

But Vautrinot was also the “neighborhood watchdog,” Pullen said.

When a rash of robberies hit their neighborhood and a couple was beaten, Vautrinot walked over to Pullen’s house and told her to lock her doors.

“You felt safe having him around,” Pullen said.

On Thursday, Vautrinot’s white van, which he used in his appliance installation business, was parked in the driveway of his home. Farnham said that after Vautrinot’s death, loved ones, co-workers and basketball players visited the home to share their grief.

“You couldn’t get a car through here last night,” Farnham said.

Farnham said his daughter, Lynne, Vautrinot’s wife, is staying at his Bradenton home with her two daughters. Vautrinot also has a 21-year-old son, Colson, who lives in Indiana.

At Bradenton Christian School, Vautrinot was the coach of the girls junior varsity basketball team and assistant coach of the girls varsity basketball team.

Before that, he volunteered at the school, said Brown, who is also a coach for the softball team.

Brown said Vautrinot was the kind of coach who made his players work hard, but also kept them laughing.

“Don was just always happy,” he said.

Vautrinot was also an avid runner. He ran a half marathon at Disney World followed by a full marathon earlier this month, Bradenton Christian School spokeswoman Jannon Pierce said.

Vautrinot was also the co-chair of the school’s Panther Prowl 5K Race, which will be held Jan. 28 in his honor, Pierce said.

A cause of death hasn’t been determined, but Manatee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Dave Bristow said it appeared he died when the barbell fell on him.

Funeral services are pending.

“This is very tragic the way this happened,” Farnham said through tears. “Just a wonderful, giving human being.”