Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker, the former world champion boxer who embarrassed opponents with his elusive defense and crisp counterpunches, has died at the age of 55.
The Virginian-Pilot reports that the Norfolk, Va., native was fatally struck by a car while crossing the intersection of Northampton Boulevard and Baker Road in Virginia Beach, Va. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Before going pro, the Hall of Fame boxer enjoyed an extensive amateur career that included an astonishing 201-13 record with 91 knockouts, a silver medal as a lightweight at the 1982 World Championships, and gold medals at both the 1983 Pan American Games and 1984 Olympics—where he laid waste to Puerto Rican pugilist Luis Ortiz.
In 1989, Sweet Pea was named Ring Magazine’s Fighter of the Year, and after going toe-to-toe with the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Julio Cesar Chavez, and Greg Haugen, announced his retirement in 2001 with a stellar professional record of 40-4-1.
In 2006, his first year of eligibility, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
His youngest son, Devon Whitaker, remembers his father as a “cool guy” and believes the accident might’ve been a result of his attire.
“I guess he was wearing dark clothes, the road was dark and the driver didn’t see him,” he told the Virginian-Pilot. “I can’t really say how I’m feeling because I’m feeling shocked. I’m still trying to process everything that’s going on.”
In a statement on Facebook, World Boxing Council president Mauricio Sulaimán wrote: “‘Sweet Pea’ was one of the most brilliant boxers in the past decades and he was always a great friend of the WBC. We are deeply saddened with this new; [sic] May the legend rest in eternal peace.”
Upon learning about his passing, a number of Whitaker’s peers and fellow athletes took to Twitter to mourn one of the greatest boxers in the history of the sport.
The accident remains under investigation.
“The investigation is still ongoing,” police spokesperson Linda Kuehn told USA Today. “However, it does not appear that drugs/alcohol or speed were factors in the crash.”
Whitaker is survived by five children.