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 Monday, January 31
Chiefs' Thomas has broken neck, back
 
ESPN.com news services

 LIBERTY, Mo. -- Derrick Thomas, one of the most feared pass rushers in NFL history, has a broken neck and back and might never walk again.

The Kansas City Chiefs' star linebacker's legs are paralyzed after a car crash on an icy highway in which his friend was killed.

Thomas has use of his arms and upper chest, and doctors held out hope he might fully recover. Doctors said Thomas, 33, faces extensive rehabilitation after undergoing surgery.

"I don't think you can say anything right now," Dr. Jon Browne, the Chiefs' team physician, said Monday. "These type of injuries have a mind of their own and a treatment pattern of their own. They're all uniquely and individually different."

Massive pileup kills 10
A truck jackknifed on an icy stretch of interstate north of Kansas City in Platte City, Mo., on Sunday, causing a fiery, multicar accident that killed 10 people and injured 42, authorities said.

The accident involved 19 cars and five trucks, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Falling snow had covered already icy roads, making driving dangerous across the region.

Many of the vehicles burst into flames, perhaps because one of the trucks leaked hydrochloric acid, said Sgt. Jack McMillan of the patrol.

It took rescue workers over eight hours to reach the final two victims, whose car was buried at the bottom of the wreckage.

Some of the wrecked vehicles were melted together from the heat of the fire, which burned for about an hour. The wreckage was still steaming in the cold night air at 10 p.m. CT.

Interstate 29 remained closed in both directions into the night.

The crash was unrelated to the one-car accident that paralyzed Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas and killed a passenger in his car.

"At this point, he does have good use of his upper extremities and his upper chest area. The other parts are still evolving at this point. We're not going to get into any specifics about what he does or doesn't have."

"It's really too early to tell," said Chiefs president Carl Peterson.

Thomas was transferred from the Liberty Memorial Hospital to the Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on Monday night. Thomas was born in Miami and his mother lives there.

Dr. Barth Green of the Miami Project said Thomas has several fractures in his cervical (neck) and thoracic (chest) spine. Green said Thomas has no movement or control of movement below his chest level.

"Derrick's injuries are primarily to the spinal column," Browne said. "He does have some neurological impairment, which is continuing to evolve. He will require some extensive rehabilitation.

Teammates and friends gathered at the Liberty hospital Monday. Peterson and coach Gunther Cunningham were joined by Steve Palermo, a former American League umpire who was shot in 1991 and left partially paralyzed.

"Do not rule anything in," said Palermo, a Kansas City resident and friend of Thomas. "And do not rule anything out. He understands the gravity of it. But he's also very optimistic.

"This type of injury, it's impossible to know how it's going to turn out, but Derrick is a fighter," Palermo added.

"He has given a lot to this city and this organization," Cunningham said. "It's a tough thing to deal with."

With an infectious smile and fun-loving attitude, Thomas is one of the most popular athletes in Kansas City history, almost on a par with baseball great George Brett. Friends dubbed him "social director of the NFL."

"We drafted this young man 11 years ago, and you hope for a lot of things from a No. 1 draft choice," Peterson said. "But he's given of himself far beyond anything I could hope for. He's touched so many lives."

Thomas was driving with two friends to Kansas City International Airport on Sunday, headed for the NFC Championship Game in St. Louis.

He lost control of his car on a snowy highway, and it rolled several times. Thomas and Michael Tellis, 49, of Kansas City, Kan., were not wearing seat belts and were thrown from the car, police said. Tellis, a close friend of Thomas who helped him set up projects such as a charity golf tournament that had become an annual event in Kansas City, was killed instantly.

Thomas and Tellis were thrown from the vehicle. The third man in the car, John Hagebusch, 34, was treated at a hospital and released. Only Hagebusch was wearing his seat belt, according to the highway patrol.

The crash happened about 10 miles from another highway pileup in which 10 people were killed.

As Chiefs fans in western Missouri mourned for Thomas, Rams fans in St. Louis celebrated their victory over Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship Game, one of the greatest days in their town's sports history.

But the jubilation at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City was tempered by concern for Thomas.

"All of our prayers are with him," said state Sen. Bill Kenney, who entered politics after playing quarterback for the Chiefs. The men didn't play professional football together, "but we all know as professional athletes that something bad can happen during a game," Kenney said.

"To have this happen off the field, it's a tragedy, as it is for so many families with loved ones injured in crashes. My thoughts and prayers are with Derrick and his loved ones."

Thomas is a nine-time Pro Bowl player who holds the NFL one-game record of seven sacks and ranks ninth on the career list with 126.5.

The seven-sack game came against Seattle in 1990 near Veterans Day. He dedicated his effort to his father, an Air Force pilot who was killed in Vietnam in Operation Linebacker II.

With one of the quickest first moves of any defender in the league, Thomas became known for his "sack and strip" move in which he would close fast on a quarterback's blind side and hack at his arm to knock the ball out of his hand.

The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder, named to the Pro Bowl his first nine seasons, holds Chiefs records for career safeties (three), forced fumbles (45) and fumble recoveries (19). He starred at Alabama, where he was named All-America.

Thomas made headlines in 1998 when he lost his temper in a Monday night game against Denver and committed three personal fouls during the Broncos' final touchdown drive. He was fined and suspended for one game and apologized to the Broncos and "to the youth of America."

He has been active in the Kansas City area with his "Third and Long" literacy program.

"God willing, all the initial reports will be off and he'll be OK," Chiefs center Tim Grunhard said. "Right now, I'm not concerned with Derrick Thomas the football player. I'm worried about Derrick Thomas the person."

Concern for Thomas also was on the minds of some Super Bowl-bound players.

"It's something that made me think how lucky I am to be here," said St. Louis Rams linebacker London Fletcher. "Nothing in life is guaranteed."

 


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AUDIO/VIDEO
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 Dr. Jon Browne discusses Derrick Thomas' injuries.
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 Carl Peterson says Derrick Thomas has a positive attitude.
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RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6

 Gunther Cunningham talks about his visit with Derrick Thomas.
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RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6

 Dr. Jon Browne gives his prognosis.
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RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6