Brian Price closes his eyes. But sleep rarely comes, not more than an hour a day, not since the hit-and-run automobile accident last week that killed his sister and left two nephews who call him dad without their mother.
"She was like my personal cheerleader, like my No. 1 fan," Price said Friday of Bridget James, 33, who died in surgery from injuries sustained in the accident in Los Angeles. "She would be there every day, especially after every game. Win, lose or draw, she was like, 'Go get them next time.'
"She was a special person. We had a bond. She was real protective. You couldn't say anything about me, nothing wrong about me, or she would get on you. She didn't care. She talked the most trash — ever. She was my guardian angel, and she's my guardian angel now. I know she's looking down on me now."
Tragedy is no stranger to the third-year Bucs defensive tackle or his family. He lost two older brothers to gang-related shootings by the time he was 15. Bridget helped Price get through the anger and anguish.
Just a day before the accident, Price received a text from Bridget, thanking him for taking her two sons, ages 7 and 9, to their first Los Angeles Dodgers game.
"My little nephew, E.J., he loves, loves baseball," Price said. "I asked for permission to take them when they were in school, and she was, 'Boy, you don't ask for permission to take them.'
"Their dads aren't in their lives, so they look at me as their father. Sometimes, they're like, "Dad, I mean, uncle.' I wanted to make it special. So I picked them up in a limo. It was their first time in a limo. I had snacks for them, and we went to the game. I bought them souvenirs and stuff for the game. When they got home, she sent me a text and said, 'I really appreciate you doing that. You're their father figure. I love you so much. You've had such a positive impact.' It was a real long text and really emotional."
Price, 23, did not accompany the limo back to his sister's house. He planned to visit her the next day, before he left Los Angeles, but he had a training session.
"I should've seen her," Price said.
Price was going through the security line at Los Angeles International Airport when the first missed phone calls arrived. He learned later that Bridget's car was struck broadside. She tried to regain control, but the car crossed into oncoming traffic and was struck two more times. The driver that caused the accident fled the scene.
"What they had told me was she was in an accident and had gotten rushed into surgery," Price said. "I was like, 'Okay, she's strong. They've got her in surgery, but it didn't sound bad.' "
Price called his father, Frank, who coaches at Crenshaw High. He urged his son not to get on his flight.
"So I had him come pick me up … and we were on our way to the hospital," Price said, his voice breaking. "(Another) sister called me, and all I heard was yelling and screaming in the background. She said (Bridget) didn't make it."
"It didn't feel real. I started cussing her out because I didn't know it was real. I was like, 'What the hell are you talking about?' After it happened, it didn't seem real. It still doesn't seem real. It hasn't really hit me. Sometimes it hits me for a couple of minutes. But it still doesn't feel real."
Stay updated on the Super Bowl champs
Subscribe to our free Bucs RedZone newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Price said he has not been able to keep food down or sleep much since the accident. The 35th overall pick in 2010 planned on participating in the Bucs' first week of organized team activities, but the mental and physical stress took a toll.
Bridget's death is just the latest in a string of tragedies Price has had to cope with. His 18-year-old brother, Eddie, was killed in a drive-by shooting while walking a girl to a bus stop in the gang-filled Crenshaw district when Price was 10. Five years later, Price's brother Damon was shot in the back of the head as he drove his car along Crenshaw Boulevard.
As always before, there was Bridget to comfort and console him. This time, she is gone.
Price became sick and spent three days in a Tampa hospital before being released Thursday afternoon.
"I haven't been sleeping in like weeks," Price said. "I'd stay up all night, and I go to sleep at like 7 in the morning and wake up in a hour and go about the rest of my day. My sleep patterns have been all out of whack because of what happened. I started to get real sick from the experience and being depressed and whatever. I don't know. Everything kind of fell out of whack.
"They gave me some Ambien to sleep, but that didn't even work. I was up. I was worried. It was just crazy. It still happens. Like if I doze off for an hour, I will wake up in the middle of the night and it felt like somebody was watching me or something. It's crazy."
Price said he plans to adopt his nephews and bring them to Tampa when school ends and the time is right. For now, they will stay in Los Angeles with their grandmother.
"I know they're excited to come out here and hang with me," Price said.
Price said he is a man of faith, but he admits there are times when the thought of losing another sibling makes him angry. He prays for understanding.
"When tragedy does strike you, you have to look up to the skies and know that everything happens for a reason," he said. "We may not know that reason. I get (mad) just thinking about it, thinking why does this have to happen. But who am I to question God? I'm just a humble servant."