Less than 24 hours after he was in a motorbike accident just north of Miami, Ravens cornerback Tray Walker died from his injuries, news that rocked the team and the rest of the NFL community. He was 23.
Walker died at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on Friday at 5 p.m., his agent Ron Butler said. Butler said that Walker, who was not wearing a helmet when his bike collided with an SUV on Thursday night, had sustained significant head injuries in the crash and had undergone surgery.
Friends and family members had been gathering at the hospital since late Thursday night and Ravens officials began arriving late Friday afternoon.
“We have two sons not too much older than Tray, and we can’t imagine how much his family is suffering,” Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said in a statement released by the team Friday night. “This is so sad. The right words are hard to find at a time like this. As much as we can comfort Tray’s mom and the rest of his family, we will.”
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said he was devastated by the news.
“Tray was a young man who was full of energy and promise,” Flacco said. “This is very hard to wrap my head around. As a parent, I cannot imagine what his family is going through right now. All of my thoughts are with them. My hope is that we can be a little bit of help by being a second family for them.”
Walker was a promising cornerback who made the NFL despite getting only one college scholarship offer at small-school Texas Southern in Houston. A fourth-round draft pick by the Ravens in 2015, Walker played in eight games as a rookie. He had dedicated his first NFL season to his father, Tommy Lee Walker, who passed away from a heart attack in November 2014 at 53.
Tray Walker left an impression on his coaches and teammates because of his quick smile and easy sense of humor. Walker said little early in the season, according to fellow cornerback Jimmy Smith, but he quickly became one of the guys and his laugh could often be heard across the locker room.
“Tray was a good young man with a good and kind heart,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He was humble and loved everything about being part of the Ravens' team. He loved his teammates, the practice and the preparation, and that showed every day. He was coachable, did his most to improve and worked to become the best. I’ll never forget that smile.”
Harbaugh, who wrote an open letter to his players earlier in the day urging them to supply prayer and hope for Walker and his family, recalled the times Walker stood next to him during the national anthem and hugged him when it was over.
Walker’s accident happened not far from where he attended high school, Miami Northwestern, teaming with future NFL standouts Teddy Bridgewater and Amari Cooper.
According to the Miami-Dade Police Department, Walker was driving his dirt bike west on Northwest 75th Street when he collided with a Ford Escape traveling south on Northwest 21st Avenue, just before 8 p.m. Thursday. The driver of the SUV, Donzetta Coaxum, 62, of Miami, was uninjured and remained at the scene.
Detective Dan Ferrin, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade Police Department, said Walker’s bike didn’t have headlights. He was also wearing dark clothing, “which may have been a factor,” according to detective Alvaro Zabaleta.
The accident remains under investigation.
Players throughout the NFL flooded social media to offer condolences and well wishes to Walker’s family and the Ravens.
“Today we lost more than an athlete, we lost a son, a brother, a teammate, a classmate, a friend, and a GREAT person,” wrote Bridgewater, the Minnesota Vikings starting quarterback. “You proved that something positive can come out of Miami Northwestern and off of 71st Street. You were loved by many in the community and looked upon as a role model. It saddens me today knowing you were just scratching the surface and about to reach your full potential.”
While Bridgewater and Cooper were touted prospects and ultimately became NFL first-round picks, Walker accepted the offer from Texas Southern and intercepted nine passes in his career there.
“Tray was one of the most humble persons we brought in for a pre-draft visit. That was striking,” Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “After we drafted him, he and his family were so excited to receive the call that he was about to become a Raven. It was one of the calls I will always remember.”
“The loss of this young man is a terrible tragedy, and this is a sad day for everyone in the NFL,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with Tray's family and friends, his teammates, and the entire Baltimore Ravens organization.”
Walker became the first Texas Southern player to be drafted since 2000.
“That smile is what I’ll miss,” said Darrell Asberry, who coached Walker from 2012 to 2015 at Texas Southern. “It’s hard to believe. He was just an intelligent young man. Just being able to watch him from a sophomore, from a kid to a young man, to a senior who graduated; he just had that determination.
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard about it. I called my mom [Thursday night]. Tray had gotten close to her. Every time she came to a game, she would look for him. He was such a special young man.”
Walker’s rookie NFL season essentially served as a learning year. He acknowledged that the pace of the game and the length of the season were significant challenges in his transition to the NFL after coming from such a small school.
As Ravens players packed up their lockers the day after the season-ending loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Walker vowed to come back strong for his second NFL season. He was expected to compete for a reserve cornerback role with the team.
“Times like this make you hug your kids together,” Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. said. “A mother lost her son today, and a family lost their brother, including us, his extended family. I will miss seeing him every day and seeing that bright smile he always wore. I pray that his family can find peace. Rest well, Tray.”
Funeral services for Walker are pending.
Staff reporter Tim Prudente and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel contributed to this article.