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DENVER - Police impounded a 1998 Chevrolet Tahoe early Thursday they believe might have been used in a New Year's Day drive-by shooting that killed Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams.
Passers-by spotted the vehicle parked south of Denver International Airport and called police anonymously at about 6:30 a.m., police spokesman Sonny Jackson said.
"The community once again came through for us," he said.
Jackson said the vehicle had a license plate that matched the one investigators sought. Television images showed the SUV had no rear plate, but the front plate still was attached.
TV shots also appeared to show the vehicle had been spray-painted black on the sides, front and back, but the top remained white - the original color of the vehicle authorities were seeking.
"It appears there was an attempt to disguise," Jackson said.
State confidentiality laws prevent police from saying whom a vehicle is registered to. However, the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post, citing sources they didn't name, reported the SUV belongs to Brian K. Hicks of Denver, who is jailed on drug and attempted murder charges.
Jackson declined to say whether a tipster or a witness led police to focus on the truck.
The vehicle was placed onto a flatbed tow truck and hauled away. Jackson said crime lab investigators would inspect the SUV, but he declined to discuss specifics of what they would look for or what tests they might conduct.
The Tahoe was found on a street amid snow-covered empty lots and industrial buildings under construction. A housing subdivision stood in the distance. Traffic sped by on a nearby thoroughfare.
Elisa Hall, who lives within view of the site where the Tahoe was found, said she hadn't noticed when the SUV was dropped off or impounded.
"It's scary," she said. "You think you're safe. I think this is in the middle of nowhere. This is far from Denver."
Although Hicks was behind bars on the day of the shooting, police want to know who was using his vehicle in the early morning hours of New Year's Day, when a gunman sprayed a white stretch Hummer limousine with at least 14 bullets, one of which struck Williams in the neck.
Hicks, 28, has been jailed since Nov. 9 on a charge of possessing drugs with intent to distribute. He also is accused of shooting at a woman who was later killed a week before she was to testify against him last month.
Hicks' wife, Kimaya James, told the Rocky Mountain News that police were looking for her husband's vehicle but that she didn't know who had been driving the Tahoe while he's been in the Denver County Jail.
Investigators have not identified any suspects in the attack on Williams that wounded two other people.
Police also aren't saying whether they know the motive for the slaying but have said there was a disturbance at a nightclub where Williams attended a New Year's Eve party shortly before he was killed. Investigators also are reviewing surveillance video from the club and footage from traffic cameras.
Williams' uncle, Demond Williams, said the cornerback was at the club to promote a rap group for his fledgling independent recording label, Ryno Entertainment.
The gathering at the club in downtown Denver also was billed as a birthday party for Denver Nuggets star Kenyon Martin, who has said he and other Nuggets left the club before any trouble arose.
Williams' teammates and coaches, along with owner Pat Bowlen and other team personnel gathered with Williams' relatives at the team's training complex on Wednesday for a private memorial.
Also in attendance was former teammate Trevor Pryce, who plays for the Baltimore Ravens.
Some of the players wore sweats, others jeans and others suits as they solemnly filed into the building.
"I would like to thank you all for the love and support that our family has received during this sad time," Williams' mother, Rosalind Williams, said in a statement afterward before flying back to Texas.
"Dee lived his life to the fullest. ... I know from all of the public outpouring of sympathy, my son in his short time on this earth touched many lives."
The Broncos will charter a flight to Fort Worth, Williams' hometown, where the funeral will be held at Great Commission Baptist Church this weekend. It will be open to the public.
"I think it will be very special for our football team to be there as a group and to not only support Darrent's memory but his mom, and we're going to have everybody in the organization go," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "It is something we have to do as a family."
Although only 5-foot-8, Williams was full of confidence. He had 88 tackles and four interceptions in 2006 and returned two punts for 50 yards in his final game hours before his death, a 26-23 loss to San Francisco that eliminated the Broncos from playoff contention.
Williams had a 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter who live in Fort Worth. A memorial fund was set up in their honor, and Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony said he wanted to honor his friend, possibly by setting up a college fund for Williams' children.
Anthony said he was with Williams at the nightclub in the hours before he was slain.
In 2003, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Joey Porter was shot outside a Denver sports bar, and last April, Nuggets guard Julius Hodge was shot while driving on Interstate 76 in Denver. Both shootings occurred after disturbances at nightclubs and neither case has been solved.
Hodge, who played Tuesday night for the first time since he was shot five times April 8, said Williams' killing brought back nightmares of the night he was attacked.
"I pray every night for him and his family and friends," Hodge said. "They haven't found who shot me and I've pretty much let it go, but I pray that they find whoever shot him."