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Crash injuries paralyze Seahawks tackle Frier

KIRKLAND, WASH. — KIRKLAND, Wash. -- Mike Frier, a defensive tackle for the Seattle Seahawks, is looking at spending the rest of his life using a wheelchair after having surgery yesterday to repair his broken and dislocated neck.

Still in question is who drove the vehicle in which Frier, a passenger, was injured Thursday night in a one-car accident a half-mile from the Seahawks' training facility in Kirkland.

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"The likelihood that he will play football again is zero. The likelihood of walking is very poor," said Dr. Michael Schlitt, the neurosurgeon who operated on Frier at Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue.

Running backs Chris Warren and Lamar Smith also were injured when Smith's 1992 Oldsmobile Bravada veered off the road while passing another vehicle and slammed into a utility pole.

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Warren, who is second in the AFC in rushing this season with 1,096 yards and has gained more than 1,000 yards the past three seasons, was arrested for investigation of vehicular assault Thursday night and identified as the driver by Kirkland police. Yesterday, however, the agents for both players said Smith was at the wheel.

"Chris Warren at no point was operating the vehicle . . . at all times he was a passenger in the vehicle," Rick Schaeffer, Warren's agent, said at the Seahawks' headquarters after flying in from Baltimore.

Eugene Parker, Smith's agent, agreed with Schaeffer.

Kirkland police, however, said they have at least two witnesses who put Warren behind the wheel.

"The best I can tell you is that it was a misunderstanding," Schaeffer said. "The charge is a mistake in that he was not operating the vehicle."

Schaeffer said he will speak with police before returning to Baltimore.

Warren, who was released on his own recognizance, could not be reached for comment. He has had a checkered Seattle driving record. His license was suspended in November 1993 for failing to pay traffic fines, then he was cited for speeding and driving with a suspended license in May.

Regardless of who was behind the wheel, the main victim is the 25-year-old Frier.

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Warren, 27, broke two ribs in the accident and was released from the hospital yesterday. Smith, 24, had a chip fracture in his spine and a sprained ankle. He was released yesterday.

Frier broke and dislocated his neck between the fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae. The fifth vertebra slid forward its entire diameter on the sixth vertebra, severely injuring the spinal cord, Schlitt said. Frier has no muscular function in his legs or hands, and only limited muscle function in his biceps and the triceps in his left arm.

Frier regaining additional use of his arms is "almost guaranteeable," Schlitt said. It is doubtful, however, that Frier will have completely normal functions of the hands.

"The most likely scenario is that he will have function of the arms sufficient to allow him to be independent in his activities of daily life but not be able to walk," Schlitt said. "He almost certainly will be wheelchair-dependent."

Before the accident, the three injured players and two others spent two hours playing pool and drinking beer at The Shark, a Kirkland billiards hall. Kelly Simonson, a partner and bartender at The Shark, said the five Seahawks drank some beer but did not seem intoxicated when they left.

Kirkland police said there is reason to believe alcohol was involved, but only Warren was given a blood test at the hospital.

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"I'm unclear what actually caused them to hit the pole," O'Toole said. "They either swerved to avoid a planter median and hit the pole or they didn't know the median was there and hit the median, then the pole."

The pole burst into flames on impact and electricity was cut to 4,500 nearby homes.


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