Frank Meza, whose result in the 2019 Los Angeles Marathon was voided by race officials this week following a review of video from the race, has died. He was 70.
A spokeswoman for the L.A. County Medical Examiner-Coroner said Meza was found Thursday morning on the bed of the L.A. River near the Riverside-Figueroa Street bridge. He was pronounced dead at 10:05 a.m. An autopsy is pending.
Authorities responded to a call for a possible jumper on the bridge at 9:49 a.m. Thursday. Four passing bicyclists pointed authorities to the body.
Meza’s death comes just days after L.A. Marathon officials determined he left the course for a portion of his record-setting performance in March and that his time during one stretch was “impossible.”
Though Meza had repeatedly denied accusations of cheating in multiple marathons, he came under scrutiny with the long-distance community following his time of 2 hours 53 minutes 10 seconds in the L.A. Marathon — the fastest ever for a man his age.
Meza told The Times he had left the course during the race in search of a restroom and continued along the sidewalk for some distance before finding one.
“I didn’t cut the course,” he said Monday.
The son of Mexican immigrant parents, Meza was a lifelong runner who competed in track for Cathedral High, then returned to the sport after college and medical school, serving for many years as an assistant coach in track and cross-country at Loyola High.
As one of the early leaders of a grassroots group called the Aztlan Track Club, he also worked with young athletes in his community.
“Doc Meza had such a positive impact on so many of our lives,” said Scott Dominguez, who ran for Loyola High in the mid-1990s and is now an L.A. County deputy district attorney. “We will always remember him as our coach, mentor, friend and an incredible runner. He inspired all of us to be our best during workouts, races and in life. He gave us so much, and never asked for anything in return.”
Outside of running, Meza was well-known for mentoring Latino students and working to provide low-cost healthcare throughout Southern California.
It wasn’t until around 2009 — in his 60s — that he transitioned from running 10Ks to entering marathons. Records show that he took about 3½ hours to finish at first, then began to improve markedly around 2014.
“I got better because I started running almost twice what I was used to,” he said. “I just increased my mileage.”
But as his times dipped below three hours — a mark of distinction among marathoners — Meza also came under scrutiny.
Officials at the California International Marathon in Northern California disqualified him twice, then banned him from their event. The Los Angeles Marathon questioned his 2015 result before launching an investigation into his 2019 finish and presenting evidence that led to another disqualification.
In recent months, the long-distance community debated — often angrily — over his results as a website called marathoninvestigation.com ran a series of articles with allegations backed by statistics, photographs and video.
Derek Murphy, an amateur sleuth who operates the site from Ohio, released a statement Friday regarding 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,” wrote Murphy, who said he’d be making no more public comments on the matter at this time.
“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 steadfastly denied cheating. He seemed bewildered by the controversy.
“All kinds of allegations were being thrown at me,” he said. “It was pretty traumatic.”
In a telephone call to a reporter earlier this week, he spoke of his desire to prove critics wrong by running his next marathon with an official observer by his side.
“That’s my only silver lining,” he said.