Former UCLA and professional football player Marcus Cassel was killed early Friday, November 17th, after the vehicle he was driving crashed into a tree at Palisades Park in Santa Monica, police said.

Cassel, a 23-year-old from Los Angeles, was reportedly driving his sports utility vehicle at a high rate of speed westbound on Santa Monica Boulevard at about 5:15 a.m., when the vehicle failed to turn onto Ocean Avenue and went into Palisades Park, Santa Monica police said.

The vehicle struck a tree in the park and then rolled over, coming to rest against a cement light standard, police said.

Santa Monica police and firefighters were called to the scene, where firefighters had to use extrication tools, including the Jaws of Life, to remove Cassel from the vehicle, said Captain Alex Padilla of the Santa Monica Police Department.

There were no other occupants inside the vehicle.

Santa Monica Fire Department paramedics stabilized Cassel and took him to the UCLA Medical Center in Westwood, where he died from his injuries at about 9:30 a.m. with his parents at his side, according to UCLA football officials.

Santa Monica police detectives are investigating the cause of the accident.

Cassel, who was originally from Carson, played cornerback for the UCLA Bruins from 2002 to 2005.

He earned his degree from the university in March this year.

Bruins coach Karl Dorrell said Cassel started all 12 games in his senior season and was a key contributor for the team, which finished with an overall record of 10-2.

“Marcus was a terrific young man who was one of the most well-liked players in our program,” Dorrell said in a statement. “He had a great smile and a wonderful personality and he combined them with a determination to be the best.”

After seeing minimal playing time as a “redshirt” freshman in 2002, Cassel played in 11 games in the 2003 season and then earned the starting job as cornerback in 2004, when he started in seven games.

During his senior year in 2005, Cassel’s leadership and performance were key factors in the team’s success on the field, Dorrell said.

The news of Cassel’s death has been tough on the players on this year’s team, many of whom were still close to the former Bruin, he said.

“Our prayers are with Marcus and his family,” Dorrell said.

Following his college career, Cassel signed a free-agent contract with the National Football League’s Carolina Panthers.

He was released from the Panthers earlier this year after being placed on the injured reserve list with a hamstring injury.

As a football player for St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, Cassel was rated the number-15 cornerback in the country by

He also participated on the high school track and field team, competing in the 100-meter run, long jump and triple jump.

Memorial services for Cassel are pending.

Anyone with additional information regarding the accident is asked to call Santa Monica Detective Chris Dawson at (310) 458-8954.