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Car crash may cost Cardinal his arm

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Paul F. Gero/The Arizona Republic

Flagstaff police said the car was traveling within the posted speed limit, when it hydroplaned, spun across the median and rolled, ejecting Ernest Dye.

By Steve Schoenfeld
The Arizona Republic
Aug. 17, 1999 FLAGSTAFF -- Arizona Cardinals player Ernest Dye is expected to undergo further surgery this morning as doctors attempt to save his right arm, which was crushed Monday in an auto accident.

Dye's arm was injured after his car, being driven by teammate Lester Holmes and carrying Dye and teammate Carl Simpson, spun out of control on a rain-slickened road 25 miles south of Flagstaff. Dye, 28, was thrown from the car and pinned underneath it.

Doctors at the Flagstaff Medical Center say that if they are able to save the arm, further surgery will be needed. Dye remains in critical condition.

A team of trauma surgeons operated on Dye last night to attempt to reestablish circulation in the arm. Dr. Tim Bonatus, one of the attending surgeons, characterized the injury as a "crush rather than a sever, leaving the viability of the limb in question."

Holmes, 29, an offensive lineman, remained hospitalized overnight with a severely lacerated forehead. Simpson, 29, a defensive lineman, was released from the hospital but was suffering from an injured left hip.

A sullen Cardinals team, shaken by the accident, gathered around Coach Vince Tobin at the end of the afternoon practice and prayed for the recovery of Dye, Holmes and Simpson.

Cardinals officials said there was little question that the football career of Dye, an offensive lineman, was over.

Ernest Dye, above. Lester Holmes, below.


Holmes started at right guard and Simpson started at left defensive tackle in Saturday's 38-7 preseason loss in Denver. Dye was a reserve in that game.

"I've spoke to two of the players," Cardinals General Manager Bob Ferguson said of Holmes and Simpson. "They're downcast. The team is downcast. It's a very traumatic situation. They're very fortunate (to be alive). Somebody has been watching over us. But this has been a tough day."

The accident occurred about 10:15 a.m., 25 miles south of Flagstaff near Munds Park.

According to Department of Public Safety Officer Roy Hudson, Holmes was driving Dye's 1995 black Mercedes Benz 500S when he lost control in a rainstorm.

The car hydroplaned, spun around three times across the median and rolled over twice, ejecting Dye.

A number of passers-by stopped and helped drag Dye from beneath the car, including Paul Wells, who used a jack to raise the car and extricate Dye, who then was evacuated by helicopter to Flagstaff Medical Center.

"The car turned into a tin can," said Channel 3 (KTVK) reporter Scott McGee, who arrived on the scene shortly after the accident occurred. "The top of it was mangled to a pulp."

Witnesses said the windows of the vehicles were shattered, compact discs were found on the median and bloody clothes on top of the car.

Flagstaff police said the car was traveling within the posted speed limit of 75 mph.

Police said that Dye was in the front-passenger seat and Simpson was in the back seat, but that neither was wearing a seat belt. Holmes, the driver, was the only one wearing a seat belt.

Team officials did not know why Holmes was driving Dye's vehicle.

The three players were scheduled to be in Flagstaff at 11:30 a.m. for a team meeting. Tobin gave the players Sunday off after Saturday night's preseason game.

As soon as their teammates found out about the accident, several went to Flagstaff Medical Center to check on the health of the players.

Defensive end Simeon Rice and defensive tackle Bernard Wilson were at the hospital when Simpson was discharged.

"The first reports we heard were of scrapes and bruises," Wilson said. "So, I went to the hospital expecting scrapes and bruises. I wasn't prepared for what I saw."

Holmes had several deep gashes across his forehead, which was badly swollen. A plastic surgeon was brought in to operate on him.

"He's going to need some time," Wilson said of Holmes.

Photo of

Paul F. Gero/The Arizona Republic

A limping defensive lineman Carl Simpson arrives at the team's afternoon workout. He didn't comment except to say he was "OK."

Simpson arrived at the team's afternoon workout and limped badly. He didn't comment except to say he was "OK."

Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill arranged for Dye's mother and wife, Rhonda, to fly in from South Carolina. They were scheduled to arrive in Flagstaff this morning.

Holmes' family members also were scheduled to arrive in Flagstaff this morning from the Valley.

Bidwill also offered to bring in any medical specialists that were necessary to treat the players, but Flagstaff Medical Center personnel said they weren't needed.

Tobin said he never considered canceling practice but acknowledged that it was hard for the players to concentrate on football.

Quarterback Jake Plummer said the team is just relieved the players weren't hurt worse.

"I'm happy I get to see these guys again, be able look them in the face and tell them how much I appreciate them being here instead of being in mourning, having lost one of them," Plummer said. "It's a terrible thing to happen right now, but as a team we've got to just pull even tighter together."

Ferguson said the team hasn't thought about reconsidering its policy to let players drive to Flagstaff.

Observers asked Plummer whether the team should re-evaluate its policy and make players go to and from camp on a bus.

"We're adults," Plummer said. "We're responsible. Things happen. You can't control them. They didn't know they were going to hydroplane. It happened quicker than they could think.

"Busing up would probably prevent that, but who's to say that buses couldn't do the same thing?"

Dye, a 6-foot-6, 340-pound product of the University of South Carolina, was attempting to make a comeback with the Cardinals, who picked him in the first round of the 1993 draft.

He started 23 games for the team from 1993-96 but was plagued by injuries to both shoulders, a knee, Achilles tendon and a sprained arch.

He signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Rams in 1997 and saw action as a reserve and special teams player in 13 games. But he lost interest in football when his brother, Marty, committed suicide and his father died of a heart attack within a two-month span two years ago.

He signed as a free agent with the Cardinals in the off-season and played backup left guard in Saturday's preseason game.

"He has been through some rough stuff the past few years," offensive line coach George Warhop said. "I thought he played well (against the Broncos). He did some very good things."

(Republic writers Tim Tyers and Yoji Cole contributed to this article.)

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