NEW YORK – The death of former Enron Corp. chief Ken Lay on Wednesday underscored the challenges facing online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which as the news was breaking offered a variety of causes for his death.
Lay, 64, died of an apparent heart attack, according to a pastor at the Lay family's church in Houston. It was six weeks after a jury found him guilty of fraud in one of the biggest corporate scandals in U.S. history.
A family spokeswoman said that Lay passed away early on Wednesday morning in Aspen.
Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that anyone can edit, added news of Lay's death to his online biography shortly after news outlets began reporting it at around 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT).
At 10:06 a.m., Wikipedia's entry for Lay said he died "of an apparent suicide."
At 10:08, it said he died at his Aspen, Colorado home "of an apparent [heart attack] or [suicide]."
Within the same minute, it said the cause of death was "yet to be determined."
At 10:09 a.m., it said "no further details have been officially released" about the death.
Two minutes later, it said: "The guilt of ruining so many lives finally [sic] led him to his suicide."
At 10.12 a.m., this was replaced by: "According to Lay's pastor the cause was a 'massive coronary' heart attack."
By 10:39 a.m., Lay's entry said: "Speculation as to the cause of the heart attack lead many people to believe it was due to the amount of stress put on him by the Enron trial." This statement was later dropped.
By early Wednesday afternoon, the entry said Lay was pronounced dead at Aspen Valley Hospital, citing the Pitkin County, Colorado sheriff's department. It said he apparently died of a massive heart attack, citing KHOU-TV in Houston.
Officials at Wikipedia did not immediately return phone and e-mail requests for comment. Its Web site warns users that "newer articles may still contain significant misinformation, unencyclopedic content, or vandalism."
Wikipedia says it has 13,000 active writers and editors.
Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, who replaced him as chief executive, were convicted for their roles in Enron's 2001 collapse. Both were awaiting sentencing and faced long prison terms.