Kevin Ellison, a former defensive back for the Spokane Shock arena football team, died last Thursday due to unknown causes on the side of the freeway in San Fernando Valley, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner. He was 31.
“He was disoriented and didn’t know where he was at,” Chris Ellison told the Los Angeles Times, which said his brother, a former USC star, died walking on the side of the freeway. “I’m sure he was trying to come home and find his family. We love him so much.”
Charged with arson in Spokane in 2012, the three-time Rose Bowl winner had a long history of struggling with mental illness. Ellison initially told police the fire had started because he had been smoking in bed, but later confessed to then-Spokane Valley Fire Marshal Clifton Mehaffey that he set the bed of his third-floor apartment on fire with a cigar because God told him to do so.
Awaiting his trial, Ellison had been placed in solitary confinement. Then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Harrington – who was chosen for a third time to lead the U.S. attorney’s office in Spokane last May – said Ellison was a danger to the community. But family members were concerned that this placement would cause his mental health issues to worsen.
“He knows something is wrong in his mind,” Judy Reisner, Ellison’s mother, told The Spokesman-Review in early August 2012. “He feels it when it happens. He just wants help. Who’s going to get him help?”
On August 14, 2012, Ellison was transferred to Eastern State Hospital for mental health treatment. Ellison’s case was eventually dismissed, and he was ordered to pay $80,000 in restitution, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The USC Trojans athletic department – at the school where he played as a safety from 2005-08 and served as a team captain under former coach Pete Carroll – recognized his death on Twitter with the hashtag #FightOnForever. Ellison was coached by Carroll again during his stint with the Seattle Seahawks, but was released before the 2010 season opener.
Chris Ellison told the Times that his family had done everything they could to help Kevin.
“Kevin was liked and loved by everybody,” Chris said.
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