More Special Treatment for FSU Football Players ; Election No Help to Web Gaming

pj williams and jameis
For an F.S.U. Football Player, a Hit and Run Becomes Traffic Tickets

By MIKE McINTIRE and WALT BOGDANICHN
www.nytimes.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In the early morning hours of Oct. 5, as this college town was celebrating another big football victory by Florida State University, a starting cornerback on the team drove his car into the path of an oncoming vehicle driven by a teenager returning home from a job at the Olive Garden.

Both cars were totaled. But rather than remain at the scene as the law requires, the football player, P. J. Williams, left his wrecked vehicle in the street and fled into the darkness along with his two passengers, including Ronald Darby, the team’s other starting cornerback.

The Tallahassee police responded to the off-campus accident, eventually reaching out to the Florida State University police and the university’s athletic department.

By the next day, it was as if the hit and run had never happened.

The New York Times looked into how the police handled this case, reviewing law enforcement records and interviewing witnesses, lawyers, the police and a university representative. The examination found that Mr. Williams, driving with a suspended license, was given a break by the Tallahassee police, who initially labeled the accident a hit and run, a criminal act, but later decided to issue him only two traffic tickets. Afterward, the case did not show up in the city’s public online database of police calls — a technical error, the police said.

A starting cornerback for the Florida State University football team left the scene of a collision on Oct. 5 but was not charged with a hit-and-run, an examination by The New York Times found. That contrasts with another case in the same area in the same month.

Mr. Williams eventually returned to the scene. But Tallahassee officers did not test him for alcohol. Nor did their report indicate whether they asked if he had been drinking or why he had fled, logical questions since the accident occurred at 2:37 a.m. The report also minimized the impact of the crash on the driver of the other car, Ian Keith, by failing to indicate that his airbag deployed — an important detail because Mr. Keith said in an interview that the airbag had cut and bruised his hands.

The university police, who lacked jurisdiction, nevertheless sent two ranking officers — including the shift commander — to the scene. Yet they wrote no report about their actions that night. Florida State dismissed the role of its officers in the episode as too minor to require a report or enter into their own online police log, comparing it to an instance when campus officers responded to a baby opossum falling from a tree.

The car accident, previously unreported by the news media, comes amid heightened national scrutiny of preferential treatment given to athletes, including articles by The Times examining how the authorities have sometimes gone easy on Florida State football players accused of wrongdoing. The Tallahassee police conducted virtually no investigation of a 2012 rape accusation against quarterback Jameis Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner. Mr. Winston is scheduled for a student disciplinary hearing Dec. 1, nearly two years after the accusation was first made. He has denied sexually assaulting anyone.

Elijah Stiers, a lawyer from Miami who helped write a state law enacted this year that toughened penalties for hit-and-run drivers, said the basic facts of the Oct. 5 crash warranted criminal charges and a sobriety test.

“Two-thirty in the morning, people fleeing on foot — at the very least you’ve got to charge them with hit and run,” he said, adding, “You don’t get out of it just because you come back to the scene.”

The vehicle involved in the accident driven by Ian Keith, shown from Vehbidz, a website where totaled cars are auctioned for parts.

The Times also showed its findings to the Tallahassee police chief, Michael DeLeo, who said in an interview that the department would “conduct an investigation to determine what happened and whether the officers acted appropriately.” He added, “No one should be shown any favoritism.”

Florida State declined to make anyone available for an interview. In a series of written responses to questions, the university gave shifting answers, at one point saying, incorrectly, that Mr. Williams drove his car home and that the Tallahassee police were required to call the campus police under a “mutual aid agreement.” A Tallahassee police spokesman said there was no policy requiring its officers to contact the university when its students commit traffic violations.

Neither Mr. Williams, named the most valuable defensive player in this year’s national championship game, nor Mr. Darby responded to a request for comment.

In their report of the crash, the Tallahassee officers justified not charging Mr. Williams because he returned “approximately” 20 minutes later without being contacted by the police. That stands in sharp contrast to how the police treated another driver who left the scene and drove home after a minor, low-speed accident in the same area late last month. That driver and his mother contacted the police about a half-hour later to report the accident.

At five miles per hour, the collision inflicted far less damage than that caused by Mr. Williams’s car — and no injuries. Even so, the police charged the driver, who was not a Florida State football player, with hit and run.

The accident caused the airbag to deploy in Ian Keith’s vehicle, shown from Vehbidz, a website where totaled cars are auctioned for parts.

The Oct. 5 crash occurred shortly after 2:30 a.m., as Mr. Keith, 18, was driving home on West Tharpe Street from his job at the restaurant. A Buick Century heading the other way darted in front of him, attempting a left turn onto High Road. Mr. Keith hit the brakes, but it was too late: his Honda CRV collided with the Buick, spinning it around. The Honda lurched to a halt a short distance down Tharpe, its front end crumpled, debris scattered around and engine fluid leaking onto the street.

Shaken, Mr. Keith got out and waited for the Tallahassee police, who arrived within minutes. An officer approached him with an unexpected question: Where were the occupants of the other car?

“That’s when I first realized they were gone,” Mr. Keith said.

More officers arrived and tow trucks were called to retrieve the two disabled cars. An officer at the scene, Derek Hawthorne, filled out a form for the abandoned Buick, labeling the accident a “hit and run,” and asked that the car be held for processing as evidence. Officers ran the plate and found that it was registered to Mr. Williams’s grandmother in Ocala, Fla.

About a half-hour after the accident, the investigation took an odd turn. Another officer at the scene, Joseph Smith, discovered that the glass front door of a closed Exxon station at the corner of Tharpe and High was shattered, apparently from a break-in, according to his report. The gas station manager was called, and she replayed security camera video for the police showing a man breaking in and walking out with an armload of merchandise.

Mario Edwards Sr., director of player development for Florida State’s football team, received a call from P. J. Williams the night of the accident.

The video, obtained by The Times, also captured a poor-quality image of the accident. In it, the Buick containing the Florida State football players could be seen attempting the left turn onto High Road, in the direction of the Exxon station, just as the burglar was about to leave and walk toward High Road.

“They happened within seconds of each other,” said Karen Southern, the Exxon manager, adding that the police mentioned the hit-and-run accident to her but not whether they considered any possible connection to the burglary. No evidence has surfaced to link the two, and the break-in remains unsolved.

Mr. Keith said one of the officers asked him about the Exxon’s broken front door, and he replied that he had not noticed it. He said he believed that when the break-in was discovered — at 3:06 a.m., according to the police report — the football players had not yet returned, indicating they could have been gone for at least half an hour.

A university spokesman said that when the Tallahassee police called Florida State asking for help, about an hour after the accident, the players had already returned. Other football players hearing of the accident also showed up, though how many is not known.

At one point, Mr. Keith said, a football player — he did not know which one — apologized to him for fleeing and explained that they “had a lot on the line.” The player was “sort of rambling” until a female friend told him to stop talking, Mr. Keith said.

“She said to him, ‘Be quiet, you sound like you’ve been drinking,’ ” Mr. Keith said. “I remember that very clearly because it surprised me that she would say it. But the way he was speaking, I definitely had suspicions about drinking.”

In the crash report, Officer Hawthorne indicated there was no suspected alcohol or drug use, and he issued Mr. Williams traffic tickets for an improper left turn and for “unknowingly” driving with a suspended license. On the form for the impounded Buick, the officer used a pen to cross out earlier notations indicating the car would be held as evidence, writing: “No hold, no processing.”

Around 3:30 a.m., Mr. Williams, 21, called Mario Edwards Sr., director of player development for the football team, for a ride home, according to the university. The crash report said that both cars were disabled with damages that exceeded their estimated value. Mr. Keith got a lift home with a tow truck.

The Tallahassee police said officers had discretion in deciding when to press charges and issue citations. They provided The Times with seven other cases in which someone hit a car and left the scene but was not charged with hit and run.

A review of those cases, however, found that none was comparable in severity or circumstance to the Oct. 5 crash. Four involved cars bumping into each other in parking lots, another caused no damage, and the other two were very minor. In no case did a driver abandon a wrecked vehicle in the middle of the night and flee the scene after totaling someone else’s car. Notably, most of the seven crash reports contained far more narrative detail about what happened than the report on the Oct. 5 accident.

The role of the campus police in responding to the accident is especially unclear. Their call logs indicated that the Tallahassee police called them at 3:38 a.m. seeking help in an “investigation.” Yet, a university spokesman said all they wanted was an after-hours phone number for a football coach to tell him two of his athletes had been in an accident; the campus police could not locate a phone number.

The two campus officers — Sgt. Roy Wiley, the shift commander, and Cpl. Greg Washington — decided on their own to drive to the crash scene to see if they could help, but they were not needed, the university said.

University policy specifies that police reports “must be completed and submitted regarding actions taken by officers” in response to an “outside request for assistance.” Asked why the two officers had not filed a report, the university said they “were not involved in the investigation, didn’t make an arrest and their assist didn’t result in an arrest, citation or summons.”

The campus police chief, David L. Perry, said in a statement that he reviewed the actions of his officers and found that they behaved appropriately. “This was a routine matter of our agency responding to a simple request from T.P.D. and it was all together proper for our officers to go the scene,” he said in the statement.

As for Mr. Williams, court records showed that two days after the accident, he paid $296 in overdue fines, related to an earlier speeding ticket, in order to have his license reinstated. But the $392 in fines related to the Oct. 5 crash remained unpaid, and overdue, as of this week. As a result, his license was suspended again.
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coalition to stop internet gambling
Web gaming backers face bleak prospects after election, analysts say
By HOWARD STUTZ
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Supporters of federal legalization of Internet gaming could be the biggest losers following the 2014 midterm elections, according to analysts.

The issue is not expected to gain traction in Washington, D.C., come January, after the new Congress is seated.

With Republicans taking control of the U.S. Senate and gaining a larger majority in the House of Representatives, various federal bills to legalize, tax and regulate aspects of Internet gaming have little chance of surfacing.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Las Vegas, will no longer hold the same title in January. Reid had been a supporter of legalizing online poker on a federal level.

“I think the Senate transition away from Reid is, on the surface, bad for Internet gaming,” Macquarie Securities gaming analyst Chad Beynon said Wednesday.

The GOP wave also swept into local races, which could curtail online gaming efforts in several states.

Beynon said the change in Congress, along with “disappointing” revenue reported in the past year from regulated online gaming activities in Nevada and New Jersey, have damaged legalization efforts.

“There’s little interest amongst the states at this point given lower budget deficits and power moving back to GOP,” Beynon said. “California is still the big domino, in our view, but it doesn’t appear that they’re any closer.”

Only two major gaming issues were approved by voters Tuesday. Massachusetts residents overwhelmingly rejected a repeal of the state’s casino law while South Dakota voters approved expanded gaming in the Old West town of Deadwood. Gaming expansion issues in Colorado and Rhode Island, and approval of a California Indian casino, were all defeated.

“Expansion of gaming is usually a tough proposition,” Beynon said.

Results recently reported by European online gaming companies operating in New Jersey, “don’t offer a favorable outlook for U.S. Internet gaming.”

Several observers said Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson was the biggest winner in Tuesday’s elections.

Adelson opposes Internet gaming legalization. He invested millions to fund anti-Internet gaming coalitions and hire lobbyists to oversee a federal and state-by-state fight in opposition to the activity.

During a keynote address at the Global Gaming Expo in October, Adelson reiterate his position on moral and regulatory grounds.

Politico reported in September that Adelson gave $10 million to Crossroads GPS, which is run by Republican political operative Karl Rove and funded GOP Senate candidates. Many of those candidates won election on Tuesday.

“It’s not so much about Sheldon, it’s about the GOP,” said one gaming analyst who asked not to be named because his comments hadn’t been cleared by his investment house. “Based on history, the GOP rarely supports Internet gaming. The issue is on hold until 2017.”

Sources familiar with the process in Washington, D.C., said a bill introduced in March that would restore a ban on online gaming by reinstating portions of the Federal Wire Act, could be attached to another piece of legislation next year. Adelson backs the bill, that was introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Rep. Jacob Chaffetz, R-Utah.

In a statement, the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, which was created by Adelson, said Tuesday’s election bolstered the efforts to outlaw the activity.

A spokesman said 21 of the 22 members of Congress targeted by the pro-online gaming forces in the election were re-elected on Tuesday.

“The tactics to remove the dissenters of online gambling from office have failed,” the Coalition said in a statement. “Putting a stop to Internet gambling is a worthy cause, long supported by the coalition, many lawmakers, and the public.”

Alison Siciliano, spokeswoman for the for pro-Internet gaming Coalition for Consumer and Online Protection said the group hoped the new Congress wouldn’t try and prohibit the activity.

“Congress unilaterally imposing a ban on all 50 states isn’t good policy now, and won’t be good policy when the new congress convenes,” Siciliano said.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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