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“All of us here at Johnny T-shirt are heartbroken at the loss of our mentor, but more importantly, our friend,” store manager Mary Beth McIntyre said in a statement.

“Chuck always treated everyone he met with kindness and dignity. He was never too busy to help a friend or to listen to an idea.”

Helpingstine, 53, died Thursday after jumping off an I-40 overpass just north of Chapel Hill.

His death was determined to be a suicide, said Orange County medical examiner Vincent Moylan.

Helpingstine opened the Franklin Street shop, which features UNC-themed merchandise, with his brother and other partners in 1983.

McIntyre said Helpingstine will be missed by his employees at both the Franklin Street retail location and the Hillsborough warehouse.

“We will always remember his creativity, his willingness to teach, his excitement, his fairness, his kindness and his infectious sense of humor,” she said.

At about noon Thursday, someone spotted Helpingstine sitting on the side of the bridge on the part of N.C. Highway 86 that passes over I-40, according to a Thursday press release from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

A concerned driver stopped to check on him, but he jumped from the bridge before the driver could approach him, the release stated.

Helpingstine landed on the westbound side of I-40, falling into the emergency lane near the guardrail, the release stated.

Moylan said the cause of death was blunt force head trauma.

I-40 closed for about 30 minutes as a result of the incident, which also caused a minor rear-end collision between two vehicles on I-40, N.C. Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Jeff Gordon said Thursday. The accident did not result in any injuries, Gordon said.

Orange County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Tim Horne said his office’s investigation into Helpingstine’s death will be closed soon.

“I’m just waiting on documentation from the medical office,” he said.

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