It is one of the more horrific entries in the NFL's burgeoning police blotter. On Dec 1, 1994, Lamar Smith, a rookie running back with the Seahawks, ended a night of drinking by crashing his SUV into a utility pole. Smith and running back Chris Warren, who was riding shotgun, escaped with minor injuries, but defensive end Mike Frier, sitting in the backseat, suffered a broken neck that left him paralyzed from the waist down and limited the use of his hands and arms.
Less than two weeks ago, Smith, now with the Panthers, showed how little he has learned from that night. On Nov. 28, North Carolina state troopers stopped Smith for speeding and driving recklessly on a highway in Charlotte and charged him with DWI. Upon hearing of Smith's arrest, Frier was outraged, according to a friend. (Frier declined SI's request for comment.) Once again, he stands to lose the most from Smith's mistake.
As part of a 1997 settlement of a civil suit, Frier, who lives in Atlanta, has received 35% of Smith's net salary and 50% of his net bonuses since '97—an agreement that has paid Frier more than $1 million and that is to continue until July 2004. Following the recent charges, Carolina put Smith on leave for its final five games, and while he will receive the remainder of his $700,000 salary, Smith will miss a $200,000 incentive he would have achieved for rushing for 1,000 yards (he has 737), and he won't earn a $350,000 playing time bonus. Also, the Panthers are noncommittal about Smith's future, jeopardizing $1.8 million in salary and bonuses for 2003. In all, Frier could be out as much as $500,000.
Panthers officials said Smith, who declined comment, was "embarrassed and very apologetic" after his arrest. He was also penitent after the 1994 accident. "God knows I wish I could go back and change things, but I can't," he told SI in '98. "Now I have to do whatever it takes to help Mike." One of Frier's lawyers, Michael Withey, noted how hollow that pledge seems now. "Anything that takes money from Mike is a concern," he said. "And for it to happen this way, it's very painful."