Ex-NFL Player Dies In Car Wreck

Oakland Raiders defensive end Darrell Russell is shown Oct. 11, 1998, during an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif. AP

Former NFL standout Darrell Russell and his one-time University of Southern California teammate Michael Paul Bastianelli were killed in a high-speed car crash early Thursday, police said. Both were 29.

Bastianelli was driving and Russell was a passenger in a car that went out of control about 6 a.m. and hit a curb, tree, newsstand, fire hydrant, light pole, another tree and an unoccupied transit bus, Lt. Paul Vernon said.

Both Russell and Bastianelli were unconscious when firefighters arrived. Russell died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Bastianelli died at UCLA Medical Center, police said.

Russell, who last played for Tampa Bay, and Bastianelli were USC teammates in the 1990s.

"It's tragic," said Raiders safety Calvin Branch, a longtime teammate of Russell. "It's crazy when young people see an untimely death like that. It's so sad."

The 6-foot-5, 325-pound Russell, the No. 2 overall pick by Oakland in the 1997 draft, had a promising start in the NFL before substance abuse problems derailed his career. He had 28½ sacks in five seasons with Raiders, making the Pro Bowl in 1998 and 1999.

He was suspended three times for violating the league's substance abuse policy and his career never really recovered. After being released by the Raiders at the end of his second suspension, he played briefly for the Washington Redskins in 2003 and was released in training camp by Tampa Bay the following year.

Russell's first suspension came after he failed a drug test, forcing him to miss the four games of the 2001 season. The NFL does not disclose details of substance-abuse violations. The league's policy covers a wide range of issues, including the illegal use of drugs and the abuse of alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

Russell was then suspended again in January 2002 for testing positive for the club drug Ecstasy. He was released by the Raiders in October 2003, shortly after being reinstated by the league.

Russell talked about his problems this summer at the NFL's rookie symposium, which is used to teach new players what pratfalls to avoid in their careers.

"He was trying to teach people that, 'I am a prime example of what not to do in certain situations,"' Branch said.

He signed and played sparingly the rest of the 2003 season with the Redskins. He then joined Tampa Bay in the offseason but was released in training camp. He tested positive for drugs again and was suspended indefinitely by July 2004.

In September 2002, prosecutors dropped rape charges against Russell, claiming they could not prove he videotaped a woman being raped by two of his friends in January 2002.

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com

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