A former NFL player, who in 2012 survived a near-fatal injury during his collegiate career at the University of Houston, died in a car wreck early Saturday morning.
D.J. Hayden, 33, was among six people killed when a car ran a red light in downtown Houston. The Houston Chronicle reports that three of Hayden’s former college teammates, including Ralph Oragwu and Zach McMillan, also died in the crash.
A fourth ex-Cougars player has yet to be identified, the Chronicle reported.
According to the newspaper, Hayden and the other former players were in an Acura SUV around 2 a.m. when a Chrysler 300 ran a red light at “high velocity” and struck their vehicle.
The woman who ran the red light, and three other people, were pronounced dead at the scene, said assistant chief Megan Howard. Two other people died at the hospital, while another female was rushed to the hospital with “life-threatening injuries.”
Howard told the Chronicle that one person on scene was alert and speaking to investigators.
At a media briefing, Howard said that one person who died appeared to be a homeless man, and that cops were interviewing another male at the hospital. She said it was unclear who was driving the SUV in which Hayden was traveling.
ABC13 spoke to a friend of the homeless man who had been sleeping nearby. “Literally, it sounded like two trains crashing together,” he told the TV station. “I can still hear the sound in my head. It’s nerve-wracking. I was right next to him. I just had something in my gut telling me to get up, and I got up. But it could have been me.”
During Cougars practice in November 2012, Hayden and a freshman cornerback accidentally collided, and the cornerback’s knee struck Hayden’s chest. Hayden suffered a tear of the inferior vena cava, a large vein that carries blood to the heart from the body’s lower half.
At the time, ESPN reported that the team physician said the injury was fatal “95 percent of the time” and usually linked to high-speed motor vehicle wrecks.
Dr. Ron Albarado, the trauma surgeon who treated the then 22-year-old star, told the Chronicle that every second counted in getting Hayden to the hospital back then. “Another 5 to 10 minutes and he may not have made it,” he said. “Time runs out.”
Hayden lost 24 pounds after the injury and worried he’d never play football again. He told the Los Angeles Times that his doctors said he could be on the field in four months.
“But there was always doubt in my mind,” he told the Times. “I was questioning myself: ‘Why did this happen to me?’ I even questioned God, because I was in a whole different state of mind.”
But Hayden went on to make a full recovery, and the then–Oakland Raiders selected him No. 12 overall in the 2013 draft.
He played in the league for nine years, with stints on the Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Washington Commanders, which released him from the team last year.