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The Oakland Raiders Thomas Howard celebrates a sack against the Philadelphia Eagles in the third quarter of their NFL contest played at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009. The Raiders defeated the Eagles 13-9. (Dan Honda/Staff)

OAKLAND -- Former Oakland Raiders linebacker Thomas Howard died early Monday morning after losing control of his speeding BMW and crashing into multiple cars across both sides of Interstate 880, killing a driver heading in the opposite direction, officials said.

The fiery crash occurred about 12:50 a.m. when Howard was driving his BMW northbound at speeds as high as 110 mph and hit the back of a big rig he was swerving to miss between Fifth and 10th avenues, California Highway Patrol Officer Daniel Hill said. The 30-year-old linebacker's car flipped over the center median into the southbound lanes before careening into an oncoming Honda CR-V driven by 64-year-old Zenglong Liu, of Hayward.

Former Oakland Raiders linebacker Thomas Howard.
Former Oakland Raiders linebacker Thomas Howard. (Dan Honda/Staff)

Both men were pronounced dead at the scene by first responders, who arrived to find the wreckage sprawled across the southbound freeway, Hill said. Howard's BMW was discovered on its roof in the far left lane, and Liu's Honda was blocking the far right lanes.

"He started in the third northbound lane and crashed into the Honda in the third southbound lane," Hill said. "He would have had to overturn several times to make it to that side of the freeway."

The driver of the big rig rear-ended by Howard was not injured, Hill said, and the driver of a Chevrolet struck in the southbound lanes sustained only minor injuries.


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Hill said investigators will reconstruct the accident to determine an actual speed and are working to create a 24-hour profile of Howard's activities leading up to the crash. An autopsy will be necessary to determine whether drugs or alcohol were involved, since any evidence of impairment would have been swallowed by the scope of the crash.

"If there was any sort of physical evidence of alcohol involvement, we didn't see it at the scene," Hill said. "The vehicle was so mangled the officers couldn't even get close."

According to Hill, Howard's car was obliterated beyond basic recognition, with a hubcap and a BMW logo on the trunk lid being all that remained of the severely crushed vehicle.

"The damage was spectacular in a horrible way," Hill said. "At the speed he was traveling, he never would have been able to react in time to avoid a collision. We can say with relative certainty that speed was the cause of this collision."

Hill said there was no construction occurring on the road Howard was traveling, nor were there any road defects that may have contributed to the crash. Hill said the notion of reckless driving contributing to the crash is simply indisputable.

"He was driving completely recklessly northbound and killed someone driving southbound, on a different roadway -- someone who probably had no idea his life was going to end," Hill said. "He was probably headed home to his family, not knowing he would never make it back to Hayward."

The investigation will probably take several weeks to complete, Hill said.

"The bottom line is, regardless of what Thomas Howard's state was, this was a completely preventable situation," Hill said. "There was really no reason for him to be traveling at the speed he was. It's a conscious choice he made, and it's a tragedy."

Howard, who was living in Alameda at the time of the crash, was drafted by the Raiders in 2006 and spent five years with the team before signing a two-year contract with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2011. He was signed by the Atlanta Falcons Oct. 22 but was waived by the team last Tuesday.

Howard's former Raiders and Bengals teammates lamented his passing Monday on Twitter, calling him "a good buddy and teammate" and sending prayers to his mourning family.

"Just heard bout death of ex-teammate who I saw not 2 long ago," former Raiders offensive tackle Langston Walker said. "Make sure u tell ur people how u feel b/c u never know ... RIP Thomas Howard."

Added former Raiders wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey: "The NFL and the World lost a great player and even a better person in Thomas Howard today. My heart goes out to his family. RIP #crazy."

Contact Erin Ivie at eivie@bayareanewsgroup.com and follow her at Twitter.com/erin_ivie. Contact Rick Hurd at rhurd@bayareanewsgroup.com and follow him at Twitter.com/3rdERH.