Carl Ekern, a former Pro Bowl linebacker with the Rams, was killed early Wednesday morning in a one-vehicle accident in the Mojave Desert.
Ekern, 36, played 13 seasons with the Rams before retiring at the end of the 1988 season.
He was killed when the jeep he was driving on Highway 395 went off the road about seven miles south of Ridgecrest, according to Jim Malouf, chief coroner investigator for Kern County.
The time of the accident has not been determined. The California Highway Patrol was notified of the accident by a motorist at about 5 a.m.
Ekern was pronounced dead at the scene.
Chris Geiger, the investigating officer, told the Associated Press that the vehicle apparently went off the highway during the night, then over-corrected across both lanes and struck a small dirt berm.
“At that point, the vehicle became airborne and rolled several times,” Geiger said. “During that time, (Ekern) was ejected and received what appeared to be fatal head injuries.”
An autopsy performed Wednesday confirmed that Ekern died from head injuries, Malouf said.
Malouf said that preliminary tests showed no traces of drugs. Tests for alcohol are scheduled for today, although Malouf said early indications were that alcohol was not a factor in the accident.
“There was no odor and the police said there was no evidence of alcohol at the scene,” Malouf said.
At the time of the accident, Ekern was en route to Minden, Nev., where he was a volunteer counselor and coach at the Rite of Passage, a camp for juvenile delinquents. The camp is located about 15 miles east of Lake Tahoe.
Ekern played college football at San Jose State. He was selected in the fifth round of the 1976 draft and played for the Rams until retiring after the 1988 season. He became a starter in 1981 and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1986.
After his retirement, Ekern remained with the team as a volunteer coach for the 1989 season.
“We’re obviously heartbroken by the loss of one of the great Ram players, and one of the good men that I’ve known,” Ram Coach John Robinson said. “Everyone on this team had a great sense of affection and respect and feeling for Carl. He was a consummate professional as a player. I think he was a man of his word. I think he always stood for what he was. He played this game as hard as anyone as I’ve known. We’re all very sorry.”
Robinson informed the team of Ekern’s death after morning workouts at UC Irvine.
“I played with him for nine years, ever since I’ve been here,” Ram linebacker Mel Owens said. “It makes everything else seem trivial, what’s going on in your life. You just forget about all your little problems.”
Ekern, a Fountain Valley resident, was at UC Irvine on Monday and Tuesday, visiting with the players and coaches. He talked about going to Nevada and said he planned to leave Tuesday night.
“I talked to him yesterday and all of a sudden he’s not around anymore,” said linebacker Larry Kelm, who took over Ekern’s spot when he retired. “It hurts. He spent a lot of time with me when I came into the league. He never once said, ‘No, I can’t help you.’ ”
Ekern is survived by his wife, Patti, and their daughter, Allison, less than a year old. Ekern had two sons from a previous marriage, Brett, 7, and Bryce, 5.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Times staff writer Chris Dufresne contributed to this story.