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Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Former Huskers running back accused of first-degree murder

Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. -- Former Nebraska running back Thunder Collins was arrested Wednesday, nearly 24 hours after a shooting left one person dead and another seriously wounded, police have confirmed.

Collins is in police custody and faces murder charges, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said.

Police also arrested Karnell Burton, 20, on suspicion of criminal homicide, attempted first-degree murder, and weapons charges. And an arrest warrant was issued for Ahmad Johnson, 21. Both Collins and Johnson face first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder and felony weapons charges, Kleine said.

Timothy Thomas was killed about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday during a drug deal in a midtown Omaha neighborhood, authorities said. Around the same time, a white SUV hit several cars nearby. Police found Marshall Turner -- who'd been hit by gunfire -- inside. He was in critical condition Wednesday at an Omaha hospital.

Collins, 29, played for the Cornhuskers from 2000-02. He quit the team after being suspended four games for an undisclosed NCAA rules violation, and he has had a string of run-ins with the law since.

Eric Crouch, the 2001 Heisman Trophy winner who played with Collins at Nebraska, said Collins seemed to be doing well when the two bumped into each other at the Ultimate Fighting Championship matches in Omaha last week. Crouch said they spoke for about 20 minutes.

"Thunder always has been a personable guy, a likable guy, so this comes as a shock," Crouch said. "You can be very likable and have your own personal issues."

Crouch said Collins told him that he hoped to hook on with a Canadian Football League team next year and that in the meantime he was working in promotions for an Omaha company. Crouch said Collins offered no other details about his activities.

"I left it at that," Crouch said. "I didn't want to ask too many questions."

Ohio coach Frank Solich, Nebraska's coach when Collins played for the Huskers, said he hasn't had contact with Collins since 2002. He declined additional comment.

Collins, from Los Angeles, was a junior college All-American in 1998 who was touted by recruiting analysts as the next in a long line of great Nebraska running backs.

But Collins never lived up to his hype. His best season was in 2001, when he played in 12 games, ran for 647 yards and five touchdowns and caught 19 passes for 189 yards. Collins' highlight came on the 2001 season's signature play, when he pitched the ball to Mike Stuntz on a reverse play that resulted in Stuntz's 63-yard touchdown pass to Crouch against Oklahoma.

A brief stint in the CFL followed Collins' days with the Cornhuskers.

Collins had said in interviews that he considered Lincoln a safe haven from gangs in Los Angeles. His father and a brother had been killed in gang shootings, he said.

In 2006 he was sentenced to 10 days in jail after he pleaded no contest to obstructing an Omaha police officer. Witnesses said Collins had been involved in a shooting, and police found marijuana in his pocket.

In 2003, he was acquitted of assault and burglary charges in Corvallis, Ore. Those charges stemmed from his alleged confrontation with an Oregon State football player and Collins' ex-girlfriend.

In 2002, Collins pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace in Lincoln. That was part of an agreement with prosecutors to drop two assault charges connected to alleged fights with the same woman in Lincoln.

Crouch said Collins "almost reminds" him of Lawrence Phillips, the running back from a troubled background in Los Angeles who drew national attention for his crimes during and after his days at Nebraska.

"It's hard when you come from that background, like you almost have to live up to it," Crouch said. "It looks like he might have been hanging around with the wrong people or the wrong area."