Chris Campbell, a senior linebacker on the national champion Miami football team, died almost instantly after losing control of his vehicle and crashing into a tree early Saturday morning at a Coral Gables intersection. He was 21.
Joel Rodriguez, 23, the only passenger in the car was in stable condition Sunday afternoon. He is recovering from a punctured lung and a few broken ribs at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he was taken shortly after the accident.
A liberal arts major from Mount Pleasant, Texas, Campbell was slated to graduate in May. He was engaged to Tombi Bell, sister of Philadelphia 76ers guard Raja Bell and daughter of UM Associate Athletic Director Roger Bell.
“Chris was a great friend,” said Rodriguez, who was his roommate and close friend. “He was the basis of my motivation,” he said, adding that while Campbell did not have many close friends, he was the type of person who had a profound effect on those he let into his life.
“The way he would keep you going,” is what Rodriguez said he will miss most about his late friend. “I can’t believe he was taken like that,” he said.
Campbell is survived by his father, Willy Searcy, 48,who is a pastor, his brothers Eric and Jacob, and his mother, who lives in Houston.
Police said Campbell was already dead by the time they arrived at the scene of the accident Saturday morning, prompted by the 911 call placed at 4 a.m. by a neighbor.
Investigators believe Campbell was headed eastbound on Blue Road, and lost control of the vehicle attempting to veer south onto Biltmore Drive, said Coral Gables Police spokesman Sergeant Ra?l Pedroso.
The point of impact was the driver’s side of the car, and the damage was significant, according to police, who also said they have no reason to believe there may have been another car involved in the accident.
Although toxicology reports have not yet been released, investigators said they found no evidence at the scene to suggest alcohol may have been a factor in the accident.
Rodriguez told the Hurricane he had one beer that night. He said Campbell was sober as far as he could tell, and described him as a very responsible driver.
Miami offensive lineman Ed Wilkins told The Miami Herald that Campbell was playing video games at the home of teammates Markese Fitzgerald and James Lewis and had departed before midnight.
He was also spotted in Coconut Grove later that night.
“Chris was a wonderful young man. His death is a tragedy for our whole community,” said UM’s President Donna Shalala.
“Our hearts go out to Chris’s family at this time,” said Miami head football coach Larry Coker. “Chris’s death is a tremendous tragedy and a terrible loss for the Miami football family. On behalf of the entire Miami football program, I’d like to express our deepest sympathies and our condolences to Chris’s family.”
Coker said he learned of Campbell’s death and immediately contacted assistant coaches and players.
Campbell was a three-year starter and had a good chance to be a NFL draft pick. He started 30 consecutive games for the Hurricanes as strongside linebacker since midway through the 1999 season, before missing the 2002 Rose Bowl after suffering an infection to his left knee following minor surgery. Coker said he was training aggressively in hopes of being drafted.
He recorded 68 tackles, two sacks, and one interception in 11 games played this past season. During his career at UM, Campbell played in 41 games and had 221 tackles and six sacks.
“The Hurricane Athletic Department mourns Chris’s passing,” said Director of Athletics Paul Dee. “He was an exceptional young man. Chris and his family are in our thoughts and prayers.”
About 35-40 players showed up for practice Saturday morning on their free weekend, and Coker said they were all shocked by Campbell’s death.
Coker stressed the fact that the team will recover from the loss. “You don’t get over these things, you deal with these things. We’re going to bounce back and face the future,” Coker said.
An on-campus memorial service is planned for 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Gusman Hall. Campbell will be buried in Texas.