Records: UGA players tally more traffic incidents

Georgia football players and their cars have been involved in at least 10 reports of traffic-related moving violations in Athens-Clarke County since Jan. 15, when a player and team staff member were killed in a reckless driving incident allegedly tied to racing, according to records obtained by ESPN.

Players have also been involved in at least 60 additional moving violations — including speeding, distracted and reckless driving, and disobeying traffic signs — since the beginning of the 2021 academic year, according to ESPN’s analysis of 911 calls, police reports and court records from Athens-Clarke County. About 30 of those incidents have occurred since last summer, when coach Kirby Smart said police met with the team about the dangers of street racing.

ESPN’s findings echo those in a report published Friday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which found that police have charged Georgia players with traffic offenses nearly 300 times since Smart became head coach in 2015. The data in AJC’s report included minor offenses, such as failing to wear a seat belt, as well as traffic violations from other counties and states, while ESPN’s analysis focused on Athens-Clarke County and didn’t account for nonmoving violations, such as seat belt and parking tickets. But the analyses shows a pattern of dangerous driving that has continued even after the death of a teammate and staff member and has frustrated police, residents, Georgia coaches and administrators.

“The Athletic Association recognizes the severity of reckless driving and is actively addressing recent incidents with educational measures, mentorship, and when necessary, punitive action. Baseless reports that suggest we tolerate this behavior are categorically false,” according to a statement to ESPN from the UGA Athletic Association. “Our coaches and administrators are deeply disappointed by the persistence of reckless driving and other misbehavior.”

Lt. Shaun Barnett, spokesperson for the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, said officers’ enforcement is “equal across the board,” when asked about their interactions with Georgia football players. He said records released in response to requests from various media outlets would document that.

But he would not answer questions about whether the department has tried to address the issue of Georgia football players and their driving habits with the university, nor would he say whether anyone from the department has offered to speak with athletes. And he said no one from the department would be made available to answer questions regarding the specific incidents.

In its statement to ESPN, the UGA Athletic Association said it intended to bring back Athens-Clarke County police to speak to the team.

In the Jan. 15 crash, police alleged former Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter was racing team staff member Chandler LeCroy when LeCroy’s SUV, traveling more than 100 mph, left the road and slammed into power poles and trees. LeCroy, whose blood alcohol concentration was more than twice the legal limit in Georgia, and offensive lineman Devin Willock, who was a passenger in her car, were killed in the wreck. Carter pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing. He was sentenced in March to a year of probation, a $1,000 fine and 80 hours of community service. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in April.

Carter previously had been cited twice for moving violations in September 2022, once for speeding and once for failure to obey a traffic control device, according to the records obtained by ESPN. Both resulted in a fine.

Drew Rosenhaus, Carter’s agent, did not respond to a message seeking comment. In a statement to ESPN in March, Carter’s attorney, Kim Stephens, said Carter did not cause the car wreck that killed Willock and LeCroy. “If the investigation had determined otherwise, Mr. Carter would have been charged with the far more serious offenses of vehicular homicide and serious injury by vehicle under Georgia law, both felony offenses, and would have faced a lengthy prison sentence,” Stephens said in the statement.

Before the January crash, the athletic association had implemented programming to “promote a culture of responsibility” that included vehicle and traffic safety, according to its statement to ESPN. Since the crash, “there have been multiple instances in which coaches and administrators have addressed the team — along with outside experts and speakers — to counsel players following this tragedy, as well as to explain the enormous risks and consequences of reckless behavior,” according to the UGA Athletic Association’s statement to ESPN. That has included a presentation by the Georgia State Patrol, according to the statement.

“Our players have been receptive — they listen, ask the right questions, and demonstrate a clear understanding of the issue,” the association said in the statement. “But, as is often the case with educating younger individuals, we recognize these efforts will need to be consistent and continuous in order to fully reinforce the message and eliminate this behavior completely. Despite our best efforts, we cannot completely prevent speeding and reckless driving.”

The records show that a repeat traffic offender has been running back Kendall Milton, who has been cited for four moving violations in Athens-Clarke County since July 2021 — three times for speeding and once for “failure to maintain lane/improper driving on road.” They all resulted in fines, according to court records.

Then in February — one month after the deadly crash — multiple calls came into Athens-Clarke County police complaining of cars street racing, revving engines, burning rubber and doing doughnuts on Barnett Shoals Road, the same road where Carter and LeCroy were reported to be racing. One of the cars the officer found at the scene was a 2019 Lamborghini Urus luxury SUV, valued at more than $200,000 and registered to Milton, according to a 911 dispatch report obtained by ESPN. There’s no record of any citations being issued, and it’s unclear whether Milton was driving the car at the time of the report.

Milton did not respond to a message sent on social media, and messages left with one of his parents were not returned.

On March 31, 911 calls came in again reporting cars racing, driving recklessly and swerving between lanes, again on Barnett Shoals Road, which is a common location for traffic stops involving Georgia players. One of the cars was a gray Dodge Charger with a license plate registered to Georgia defensive back Tykee Smith, according to dispatch records. When an officer arrived on scene, the officer did not notice any erratic driving; there’s no record of a citation being issued.

Smith did not respond to an effort to reach him via a social media account.

Other incidents since the January crash include: the arrest of receiver Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint for reckless driving and speeding — his arraignment is scheduled for July 5; a warning to outside linebacker Weston Wallace for riding on roadways and bicycle paths; a ticket to wide receiver De’Nylon Morrissette, whose case is pending, for traveling 81 mph in a 45 mph zone; an accident involving punter Brett Thorson, who was cited for following too closely and whose case is still open; and a citation, resulting in a fine, to Christen Miller for failing to obey a red light.

Morrissette was then arrested on multiple driving-related charges — including driving under the influence of drugs — on May 8 in Oconee County. The incident was not included in ESPN’s analysis because it occurred outside Athens-Clarke County.

When asked about punishments related to driving violations, the UGA Athletic Association said in its statement that it could reduce academic-achievement monetary awards for “serious misconduct.” The disciplinary process might also include a one-on-one meeting with Georgia athletic director Josh Brooks.

“Consistent with other Power Five programs, we historically do not suspend players for minor traffic infractions or speeding tickets, but we do pursue appropriate action,” the association said in the statement.

On April 7, Athens resident Hope Cymerman and her husband had enough. For several days, they had watched a gray Dodge Charger peel out on their block, rev its engine and screech its tires multiple times a day. The final straw was when the driver gunned it so hard that he spun into the oncoming traffic lane. They called the police.

When an officer arrived, Cymerman shared the license plate information with him and told him what had been happening, according to police body-cam footage obtained and reviewed by ESPN. She told him about one particularly aggressive streak down the block leaving a trail of burnt rubber. “There was literally smoke rising up to the roof of this house,” she said. Her husband added, “He’s clearly out of control.”

The officer ran the plate, which turned up registered to Mykel Williams, a Georgia defensive lineman. When the officer arrived at Williams’ apartment shortly after responding to Cymerman’s house, the football player came out wheeling a scooter that supported his left leg. The athletic department reported that Williams had foot surgery in the spring.

The officer told Williams that someone had reported his vehicle driving recklessly down a residential street on multiple occasions. “If it is you, I’m just asking you to stop doing that,” the officer told Williams, according to the body-cam footage. “If it’s not you, if it’s someone else driving your car, then you need to have them stop doing that, please, because we’re going to put officers in that area.” Williams, who said nothing about the allegations, nodded in acknowledgement of the officer’s warning before going back into his apartment, the video shows. No citation was issued.

Williams did not respond to a text from ESPN requesting comment.

Cymerman said the driving ceased after they called police. She and her husband said in an interview with ESPN that they had no idea who was driving the car; they had tried to see the driver but said the window tinting was impenetrable.

But when she learned to whom the car was registered, “I immediately put the dots together between what happened with Jalen Carter and the potential for a pattern of behavior with a group of people based on what we saw this guy doing once we found out he was a football player,” she said.

Records from multiple traffic stops with football players show that officers have repeatedly asked them to slow down, noting the pattern in their behavior, according to records obtained by ESPN and the report by the Journal-Constitution.

When the driving arrests continued after the January fatalities, Smart said in March that the athletic department has tried to address the issue, which he said is “not to be taken lightly.”

“I think our guys understand that, and we continue to educate them and we’ll continue to do all we can as a university to make sure they behave and do that in a proper way,” Smart said at the time.

Last month, David Willock — on behalf of his son’s estate — filed a lawsuit against the University of Georgia Athletic Association, claiming the school’s athletic department should be held liable for the fatal car crash that killed Devin Willock and LeCroy.

In an email Tuesday, Willock’s attorney, Terry Jackson, wrote, “It is devastating to Mr. Willock that this conduct continues, and disappointing that the players and the Athletic Association are not taking his son’s tragic death serious enough to modify their driving habits, and the Association’s policies.”

It continued, “Until players perceive and it is demonstrated by the Athletic Association that there will be real consequences to driving offenses, including suspensions and dismissals for repeat offenders, this conduct will continue… Players and organizations respond to structure, organization, and consequences for missing their assignments. The same discipline should be applied to this problem, reckless driving, it is really that simple.”

Smart said he brought in officers from the university police and Athens-Clarke County Police last summer to educate the team about the dangers of street racing. Smart said Bryant Gantt, the program’s director of player support operations, suggested it after watching news clips of street racing in Atlanta.

Gantt is known as the program’s “fixer” because of his practice of helping athletes with criminal matters and acting as a liaison with law enforcement. His name appears on several police reports obtained by ESPN, including two for Carter, often with a notation that he has paid a fine or has been asked to be notified of law enforcement’s interaction with players. Emails obtained by ESPN show police department employees providing information to Gantt about traffic-related incidents.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Gantt had contacted court officials on 82 separate legal matters involving players between 2016 and 2023.

Gantt did not respond to messages seeking comment.

“Ongoing attempts to mischaracterize Bryant Gantt’s role with the football program are misplaced,” the UGA Athletic Association said in its statement. “As Director of Player Support and Operations, Mr. Gantt serves as an invaluable resource for our student-athletes, particularly as they navigate their lives off the field. With many student-athletes living far from home and without parental support in close proximity, Mr. Gantt provides support and reinforces our standards and expectations. Mr. Gantt helps student-athletes address issues that may be new to them, ensuring that they face and complete their responsibilities.”

In February, Georgia outside linebacker Aliou Bah was pulled over by police for going 65 mph in a 45 mph zone in his 2020 Dodge Charger. Body-cam video of the traffic stop, obtained by ESPN, shows that one officer sat in the patrol car while another walked to Bah’s window to talk to him. When that officer returned to the patrol car, she told her partner that Bah said, “Don’t tell Gantt,” according to the video. She said she didn’t know who Gantt was and told Bah, “This traffic stop’s between me and you.” The incident resulted in a fine.

Barnett, the spokesperson for the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, hung up when asked about Gantt and his relationship with the department.

“I do not have anything else to contribute to this story. Thank you for your time,” he said, then ended the call.

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