On a crystal-clear Saturday morning, NFL wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth took his girlfriend on a romantic hot-air balloon ride over the sprawling farm fields and ranchettes of South Miami-Dade. The occasion: her recent birthday.
But the ride turned into nightmare after the balloon pilot, who boasts of a perfect safety record, struck power lines as they were landing — severely injuring the couple.
Stallworth, who is a free agent and most recently a member of the New England Patriots, and Soleil Guerrero, 27, were rushed to Kendall Regional Medical Center.
Guerrero’s burns are considered much more severe than those suffered by Stallworth, 32, who is expected to resume his career on the gridiron. The balloon operator was not injured.
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“Donte’ is in good spirits, considering the pain, but his primary focus is on the well-being of Soleil,” said his attorney, Christopher Lyons.
The unusual air accident comes almost exactly four years after Stallworth was involved in another tragic crash in South Florida, where he maintains a home.
In March 2009, Stallworth hit and killed 59-year-old crane pedestrian Mario Reyes on the MacArthur Causeway in an early morning car crash. Blood tests showed Stallworth, who was driving his Bentley home after an evening at a nightclub, had a blood-alcohol level of .126, well above the legal limit.
He pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter, spent 24 days in jail and was ordered to extensive probation.
The speedy wide receiver, then playing with the Cleveland Browns, later resumed his career with Baltimore, Washington and last year, the New Patriots.
Saturday’s crash happened at about 10 a.m. at Southwest 296th Street and 217th Avenue. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.
For the air ride, Stallworth had hired Balloon Over Miami, run by Aaron Farber, 39, of West Kendall. On his website, Farber describes himself as a “very skilled and experienced” lighter-than-air and commercial fixed-wing pilot with a “perfect safety record.”
Farber could not be reached for comment.
As for Stallworth, he is on the job market. Drew Rosenhaus, Stallworth’s agent, said Saturday that “he should be fine.”
“It’s not going to have a long-term effect on him,” Rosenhaus said. “He’ll be returning in a few weeks to regular football activities and we expect him to resume his NFL career.”