Raider Stacey Toran, 27, Dies in Marina del Rey Automobile Accident

Times Staff Writer

Raider safety Stacey Toran, a rising star whose low-key personality belied a future glistening with promise, died late Saturday night when his car hit a curb a block from his home in Marina del Rey.

He was 27.

Toran was alone. Police said there was no sign of excessive speeding, nor any skid marks to suggest reckless driving.

However, said Sgt. Robert Topete of the Los Angeles Police Dept.: "It's apparent that he was not wearing his seat belt."

Toran crashed his BMW 735i at 11:30 p.m. on Glencoe Boulevard. Police said the car, which was headed south on the curving street, struck a curb, rolled over several times and hit a tree. The police report says that Toran was ejected and hit his head on the pavement. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

"He didn't appear to have been driving extremely fast," Topete said. "Witnesses estimated he was driving about 40-45 m.p.h. That's a 35-m.p.h. speed zone."

Toran's body was taken to the Los Angeles County Coroner's office. A spokesman said that an autopsy won't be performed until today at the earliest.

Toran and the rest of the Raiders practiced here Saturday, appeared for the team's annual Family Day open house at Oxnard High School, and then were given the rest of the day and Sunday off. Many of them drove back to Los Angeles, as he did.

Sunday morning, his teammates began hearing about Toran's death on the news or from friends. Many returned early. Sunday afternoon, a hush had fallen over the camp. Players walked around slowly, wearing dazed looks.

"I heard at 7:30 in the morning," said cornerback Lionel Washington, one of Toran's best friends.

"My phone rang. It was Sammy Seale (an ex-Raider cornerback, now with the Chargers) calling. He was crying.

"I thought there was something wrong, football-wise. We had become close, Sammy, Stacey and me. We worked out together, we ran together, we did everything together. We were supposed to get together Saturday night and do something. Stacey was supposed to call me. But when he didn't, I just stayed in.

"Sammy said, 'Stacey's dead.'

"It's just unbelievable. You don't want to hear it. He was a great player and a great guy. Stacey was the kind of guy you could sit down and talk to."

Toran is survived by his mother, Christine and an uncle, Melvin, in Indianapolis, and a half-brother, Isiah, who is in the Air Force.

A native of Indianapolis, Toran was captain of his football and basketball teams as a senior at Broad Ripple High School and won a memorable state tournament game against undefeated New Albany High with a last-second heave from half-court in 1980.

He attended Notre Dame and started for four seasons at cornerback, making All-American freshman and sophomore teams picked by Football News. The Raiders chose him with their No. 6 selection in the 1985 draft.

They moved him to strong safety and began predicting big things for him. They didn't have to wait long: in the 1985 opener, he returned an interception 76 yards for a touchdown against the New York Jets. By midseason, he had replaced longtime starter Mike Davis. In 1986, he had six sacks and two interceptions and was regarded league-wide as a comer.

However, last season he held out. He got a $1.2-million contract but missed most of training camp. He regained his starting job briefly but injured an ankle early in the season. After that, he only backed up Russell Carter. However, no one, not the club nor Toran, said that the injury was really a broken fibula, until Toran revealed it recently.

Toran had been moved back to No. 1. The Raiders were running a new attacking scheme, which was going to place a premium on big, blitzing backs, a defense that was made for him.

"I rode over to Family Day with him," said Vann McElroy, the free safety who played alongside Toran. "He was in great spirits. Everything was fine.

"This morning, Jerry (Robinson) came over and knocked on my door. He said, 'Stacey's dead.'

"I said, 'That's nothing to joke about.'

"He said, 'Stacey's dead.'

"It hasn't sunk in yet. You still halfway think it'll blow over and he'll be at meetings tonight.

"I remember him as a young guy coming in. That's when me and Mike Davis and Lester (Hayes) and Mike (Haynes) were going strong. He was trying to establish his niche. The coaches were already really high on him the first game his second season, he intercepted a pass against the Jets and took it back for a touchdown. After that, there was no stopping him.

"I don't understand things like this. He was really working this summer, because of last year. Training camp was going well. I think the new system was great for him. The coaches really had high expectations for him.

"He was just a good guy. There's not a guy on this team who ever had a problem with Stacey Toran, I'll guarantee you that. Stacey was never a real big talker. The only thing you remember was his smile. You'd say something or joke with him, he'd just smile."

Greg Townsend, Toran's roommate for five seasons, says Stacey was so quiet, they only recently began to get close.

"We talked, we joked about things, like current events," Townsend said. "But getting on a personal basis, we never did that until he came to camp, last Tuesday.

"The people who knew Stacey, knew Stacey. The people who didn't, didn't. You talk to somebody who knew him, they'd tell you entirely different. The guy was warm, sensitive, caring. He was everything you could want in a friend and roommate.

"He was in very good spirits. Life seemed to be treating him well. He was planning on getting married.

"The last time I saw him was at Family Day. We rode there together. He went to the cleaners to get his clothes out. He said that after Family Day, he was going to go home, check on his house, make sure everything's OK.

"That was it."

Coach Mike Shanahan called it "a tragic loss."

"Our hearts go out to his family," Shanahan said. "Everything Stacey Toran ever accomplished, he did with extreme pride and class. I would be extremely proud if my son grew up to be like Stacey Toran. Our entire organization is deeply moved. . . . This organization loved Stacey Toran.

"It was not just a fine job (that Toran did, coming back this season), it was a great job. Stacey wanted to be the best. He wanted to be All-Pro this year. He shared those sentiments with me. And he did what it took to become an All-Pro, as far as his dedication in the off-season.

"He was everything you'd want as a person--(pausing, his voice breaking) and as an athlete."

Shanahan met with his players Sunday night to find out what they wanted to do about a memorial service and the upcoming schedule.

Townsend said he is dedicating this season "and the next two or three" to Toran, and hopes they won't assign him another roommate.

On a table in their room sat some football cards Toran had just found of himself. Townsend says he'll send them to Stacey's family.

Sunday afternoon one of the Raider trainers, Todd Sperber, walked up to Lionel Washington and shook his hand.

"You all right?" Sperber asked.

"Yeah," Washington said.

"There's nothing you can say," Sperber said, shaking his head.

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