Tragedy struck the NFL again Saturday, this time with the death of Dallas Cowboys player Jerry Brown and the early morning arrest of teammate Josh Brent on charges of intoxication manslaughter.
The former collegiate teammates at Illinois were exceeding the speed limit in a 2007 Mercedes-Benz S60 driven by Brent when the car hit a curb at about 2:30 a.m. and flipped, police said. The posted speed limit was 45. Police said they did not know how fast Brent was driving but skid marks indicated a high rate of speed, police said.
It was not known whether either occupant was wearing a seat belt, police said.
Upon arriving at the crash scene, police said that Brent, 24, was attempting to remove his injured 25-year-old teammate from the burning vehicle.
Brown was taken to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead.
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Police said Brent suffered “minor scrapes.” He remains in jail in Irving, Texas, and his bond will be set Sunday.
Former Illinois coach Ron Zook said he had recently checked in on both players. He said they were living together in the Dallas area and Brent was helping Brown adjust to life in the NFL.
“When you recruit these guys and you know their families and you know what they’re like, both of them … Josh was a great kid, Jerry was a great kid. You know them and I can’t imagine being a parent and losing a child and it’s been hard today, it really has,” Zook told USA TODAY Sports.
On Saturday afternoon, blood stains and skid marks remained on the three-lane service road to Highway 114, about a mile northwest of Dallas. Small remnants of the crash – pieces of plastic from the car’s tail lights and body — were scattered along the road.
From the point where the car skidded and first made impact with the curb to where the vehicle came to rest is 864 feet, according to an accident investigator who spoke to USA TODAY Sports at the scene Saturday night. The investigator requested anonymity because the official report of the crash has not been released.
The investigator said it appeared the car skidded, hit the curb, swerved back into the middle lane, then spun off the road, driver’s side first. The car flipped several times, bouncing along the grassy embankment as it tumbled, before coming to rest upside down in the roadway after traveling nearly 300 yards, the investigator said.
The accident occurred one week after Jovan Belcher of the Kansas City Chiefs shot to death his girlfriend in the home they shared and then committed suicide at the team’s practice facility in front of coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli.
Brent has driven while drunk in the past. In 2009, he pleaded guilty to a DUI charge after an arrest while playing at the University of Illinois. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail, 200 hours of community service and two years probation. He also was ordered to attend a victim’s impact panel.
Brent, 24, is a former supplemental draft selection who has started five games this season in place of injured starting nose tackle Jay Ratliff. Brent was to start this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals but will not make the trip.
Intoxication manslaughter is a second-degree felony in Texas. If convicted, Brent could be sentenced to at least two years in prison with a maximum of 20 years, plus a maximum fine of $10,000.
The Cowboys were headed to Cincinnati to play the Bengals on Sunday when they were informed on the plane before takeoff. Team owner Jerry Jones issued a statement that said, “We are deeply saddened by the news of this accident and the passing of Jerry Brown. At this time, our hearts and prayers and deepest sympathies are with the members of Jerry’s family and all of those who knew him and loved him.”
Cowboys VP Stephen Jones told USA TODAY Sports: “It’s sad. Very sad. It’s tragic for everybody.”
The Cowboys arrived in Ohio on Saturday afternoon but no players or coaches commented as the team was whisked through the lobby at their hotel.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello issued a statement that said, “We have been in contact with the Cowboys and have deployed staff members and our independent professional counselors to assist the team in dealing with this tragedy. We are deeply saddened by the loss of Jerry Brown and extend our condolences to his family, friends, and the Cowboys organization.
The double-whammy of NFL tragedy on consecutive weekends left former player Marcellus Wiley shaking his head at the waste wrought by what appears to be more irresponsible behavior.
“Another dead member of the fraternity,” the ESPN analyst told USA TODAY Sports on Saturday.
“We all reflect and feel deep remorse but for this to resonate we still have a long way to go regarding off-the-field conduct,” Wiley said. “For that to change the compass of our ethics and morality, guys need to abide by a deeper discipline. It’s sad to see.”
Added Wiley: “Where players should be celebrating a head-start in life, people are actually doing the opposite.”
Prior to each NFL season, players receive alcohol education through a series of meetings for coaches and players. The emphasis on education has gained moment over the years, particularly after former St. Louis Rams defensive end Leonard Little, driving while intoxicated, crashed his vehicle and killed a woman in St. Louis in 1998. Little received four years probation and community service.