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.
Police said Brent suffered "minor scrapes." He remains in jail in Irving, Texas, and his bond will be set Sunday.
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.
The NFL Players Association offers a safe-ride program to all players, the phone number of which is provided to each player on his union card. The service is available anywhere in the United States or Canada, with an hourly fee of $85 paid by the player. There have been some concerns about privacy issues in the past, which is why the NFL stopped running the program a few years ago and instead let the union handle it.
"Alcohol-related violations of law have long been subject to discipline under our substance abuse program," the league said in its statement on Saturday. "Players are reminded of that every year and responsible drinking is covered in the life skills sessions that every club is required to hold annually for the players."
However, players continue to drive under the influence.
The Atlanta Falcons' Michael Turner, the Jacksonville Jaguars' Justin Blackmon and the New York Giants' David Diehl are among the players arrested this year on charges of DUI.
"One phone call could have prevented this tragedy," Seattle Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons tweeted. "It's never the one driving that loses there (sic) life literally. Condolences to Jerry family."
Contributing: Lindsay Jones, Jarrett Bell.