Charlotte Hornets players Bobby Phills and David Wesley were racing each other in their Porsches when Phills lost control and was killed in a wreck, investigators said late today.
Preliminary estimates show Phills and Wesley were driving at speeds of more than 75 mph when Phills lost control of his car just before 11 a.m. Wednesday, police Sgt. Ricky Robbins, a supervisor in the traffic unit conducting the investigation, told the Charlotte Observer.
The speed limit in the area where Phills wrecked is 45 mph.
Robbins said the players were in a spur-of-the-moment race. Racing on public thoroughfares is prohibited by state law, and the district attorney's office will determine what charges, if any, should be filed, he said.
Both players have been charged with speeding in the past, the Observer reported.
In February, Phills was charged with driving 60 mph in a 35-mph zone on Main Street in Pineville, N.C. Court records show he paid a $25 fine and $86 in court costs.
Wesley was twice charged with speeding, according to Mecklenburg County court records. In October 1997, he was charged with driving 60 mph in a 45-mph zone. He paid $80 in court costs, according to court records. In December 1998, Wesley was charged with driving 79 mph in a 65-mph zone on Interstate 485. He paid $80 in court costs, and successfully completed the National Safety Council's defensive-driving course six days after he was charged, according to court records.
Stunned and tearful teammates and Hornets officials gathered at the accident scene less than a mile from Charlotte Coliseum, where minutes earlier Phills and the other players had been practicing for tonight's game with the Chicago Bulls. The game was postponed.
Phills, 30, was traveling at a "very high rate of speed" when he collided with a car headed toward the coliseum, police spokesman Keith Bridges said. A minivan rear-ended the other car. Two people in those vehicles were hospitalized.
Wesley's car wasn't involved in the accident, but he was questioned at the scene.
Bridges said it will be at least several days before investigators reconstruct what happened.
Phills lost control on a hilly curve where the posted speed was 45 mph, said Capt. L.E. Blydenburgh, the crash investigator. "The skid marks indicate he was not going in a straight line," he said.
Phills's car, with the vanity plate "SLAMN," left skid marks several hundred feet long and came to rest in one of the opposite lanes, Bridges said. Firefighters had to cut his body from the wreckage.
Listed in stable condition at Presbyterian Hospital were Robert Woolard Jr., 31, of Cornelius, N.C., the driver of the other car; and Yao Agbegbon, 33, of Charlotte, who was driving a minivan taxi, Bridges said.
"This is the ultimate tragedy, and our immediate thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Kendall, children and family," Hornets owner George Shinn said in a statement. "Not only was Bobby a tremendous person, but a great husband, father and role model that everyone respected and admired. He was someone that you would want your children to be like."
Phills, a 6-foot-5 defensive stopper and a team leader, started often at shooting guard or small forward for the Hornets, and sometimes was a reserve.
He joined the Hornets in 1997 after six years with Cleveland and was in the third year of a seven-year, $33 million contract. Phills averaged a career 10.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists a game at the end of last season. He was fourth on the team in scoring this season.
Cavaliers President Wayne Embry gave Phills his start in the NBA by signing the guard to a 10-day contract.
"Bobby Phills was all that you would want in a human being," Embry said. "He had extreme high character. A family man. I can't tell you what he meant to the Cavs. If there's a person you would want to your children to be, a role model, it's Bobby Phills."
Active in the community, Phills volunteered for children's charities and related organizations.
In 1998, he was one of four finalists for the NBA's sportsmanship award and started the "Bobby Phills Educational Foundation."
"He touched all of our lives," said Bob Bass, the Hornets' executive vice president of basketball operations.
NBA Commissioner David Stern said Phills was "a caring member of the community."
"Bobby Phills represented the very best of the NBA," he said.
Phills is survived by his wife, Kendall, and two children--Bobby Ray III, 3, and Kerstie, 1.