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LOS ANGELES (AP) - Darrell Russell, a former standout NFL and Southern California defensive lineman whose promising career was derailed by drugs, was killed in a high-speed car crash early Thursday.
Russell, 29, was a passenger in a car driven by former USC teammate Michael Paul Bastianelli 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, 29, were unconscious when firefighters arrived. Russell died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Bastianelli died at UCLA Medical Center.
"He was a hell of a guy," Raiders receiver Jerry Porter said. "He just never found the strength to get going again after the all the trouble he got into."
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 ruined his career. He had 28 1/2 sacks in five seasons with Raiders, making the Pro Bowl in 1998 and 1999.
"Darrell was a good guy, he really was. He was a big kid like me that had a big heart," said former Raiders offensive lineman Lincoln Kennedy. "He couldn't say no to anybody. That's what had a big deal with his demise, especially in the NFL, because he couldn't let his friends go, from San Diego. He couldn't let his past go. He always wanted to try to take care and do for other people. It ended up bringing him down."
Russell 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 first 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.
"He became so big and so much into himself that he didn't want to do what it took to stay in the league," Kennedy said. "He had a couple of chances and he could just never right the ship, could never get it right. ... As much as I tried to help him, I had to realize that, he's ultimately a grown man, he's going to have to make his own decisions. That's always the way I've treated people, with respect. The reason I'm so upset now is that I wish I could have done more to maybe prevent this."
Russell tested positive for drugs again and was suspended indefinitely in 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.
Russell talked about his problems this summer at the NFL's rookie symposium, which is used to teach new players what pitfalls 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,"' Raiders safety Calvin Branch said.
Kennedy last talked to Russell about a year ago, when Russell said he was hoping to get his life back in order so he could resume his NFL career. That never happened and his friends are left to wonder what might have been if Russell had been able to keep himself clean.
"The sky's the limit. He would still be dominating today," Kennedy said. "I might have had a chance to play with him in a couple of Pro Bowls if he had just lived up to the potential of what he first showed in college and a little bit in the league.