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Georgia football recruiting staffers drove after drinking, court documents allege

Devin Willock and Chandler LeCroy

Football recruiting staffers at the University of Georgia routinely drove rented vehicles after consuming alcohol, according to court documents filed Thursday by attorneys representing a former staffer who was seriously injured in a car wreck last year that killed a Bulldogs player and another staff member.

In an amended complaint filed in Gwinnett County State Court the attorneys also alleged that UGA assistant football coaches used cash to pay for recruiting expenses during unofficial recruiting visits, which could be a violation of NCAA rules.

Victoria Bowles, who survived the car crash that killed Bulldogs offensive lineman Devin Willock and recruiting staff member Chandler LeCroy on Jan. 15, 2023, sued the University of Georgia Athletic Association, former Georgia player Jalen Carter, LeCroy's estate and others for damages in July.

Police alleged that LeCroy and Carter, now a rookie with the Philadelphia Eagles, were racing when the SUV being driven by LeCroy left the road and crashed into a utility pole and trees. The lawsuit said LeCroy's SUV was traveling at least 104.2 mph when it crashed and had been racing another SUV driven by Carter for 45 seconds or less. Police said LeCroy's blood alcohol concentration was .197, nearly 2½ times the legal limit in Georgia.

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"We are reviewing the amended complaint, but we dispute its claims and will vigorously defend the Athletic Association's interest in court," a university spokesperson said in a statement Thursday.

The UGA Athletic Association previously said LeCroy didn't have permission to drive the rented SUV for personal use.

"The UGA Athletic Association denies that Ms. LeCroy had permission to drive the subject SUV (in its words) 'to downtown Athens for a night of drinking and partying,'" the amended complaint said. "While this language is inflammatory as to what occurred the night of the crash, text messages provide evidence that football staffers, with the Association's knowledge, regularly drove recruits and their guests after consuming alcohol at Athens' restaurants and bars."

The amended complaint alleged that "text messages show that on occasion supervisors and coaches, in effect, encouraged recruiting staff to drink alcohol with football prospects' families-well aware that staffers would leave the events after consuming alcohol."

"Association coaches and staff regularly drank alcohol at UGA football Coach Kirby Smart's residence during recruiting events, and then, in Association SUVs, returned recruits' families and guests back to their lodging," the complaint said. "The Association and UGA coaches were well aware that involved alcohol, in Association SUVs."

The amended complaint included a Dec. 14, 2019, text message purportedly sent to 13 staff members by then-UGA director of player personnel Marshall Malchow, which said: "Hey guys... if you are driving you can have fun at Coach Smarts but if you are driving a recruit make sure you don't get drunk. It will be a bad look if we have people who are supposed to be driving recruits getting lit."

In a Feb. 22, 2022, text message, another athletic association employee told recruiting staff members that an associate athletics director said to turn a downtown Athens restaurant "into a bar with [recruits'] families and don't leave."

"My client's iPhone survived the crash fully intact and contains thousands of pages of recruiting texts describing the inner workings of UGA's recruiting activities," Bowles' attorney, Rob Buck, said in a statement to ESPN. "The new texts included in the Amended Complaint establish that the Association was fully aware recruiting staffers were regularly allowed to drive recruits and their families around Athens after drinking alcohol at Association sponsored events. Some texts even show that football coaches and recruiting supervisors, in effect, encouraged staffers to drink with football prospects' families.

"The texts contradict the Association's pleadings and public statements to its fan base. The texts document that the Association knowingly allowed football staffers to drive Association SUVs while drinking even if UGA had policies stating otherwise."

The amended complaint also alleges that Bowles is aware of UGA football coaches using cash in recruiting activities involving unofficial visits. NCAA rules prohibit coaches and staff members from paying for expenses for recruits and their families during unofficial visits, including lodging, meals, entertainment and travel costs.

Bowles' original complaint said Bulldogs assistant coach Chidera Uzo-Diribe asked her to use his ATM card to get $1,000 in cash at a recruiting dinner during an unofficial recruiting visit on Jan. 14, 2023. The ATM card didn't work, so she drove to her home to get money. The complaint said Uzo-Diribe paid her back via Venmo. The athletic association previously said in a statement that it assumed the cash was for Uzo-Diribe's personal use.

The lawsuit accuses Carter of illegally leaving the scene without speaking to law enforcement and failing to render aid. Carter pleaded no contest on March 16 to misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing. He was sentenced to 12 months of probation, a $1,000 fine and 80 hours of community service and will attend a state-approved defensive driving course.

According to Bowles' attorneys, she has incurred more than $170,000 in medical expenses and suffered "likely permanent disability." Among her injuries included in the lawsuit are three lumbar fractures, five fractured vertebrae, 10 broken ribs, broken clavicle, fractured and cracked teeth, kidney and liver lacerations, punctured and collapsed lung and abdominal bleeding.

The lawsuit said Bowles also suffered a closed head injury, which caused neurological damage and severe eye pain, and according to her neurosurgeon, significant damage to the membrane that surrounds the nerves of her spinal cord, which can progress to permanent paralysis.

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Looks like they’ve got a solid case against the UGA Athletic Association. Their failure to follow policies obviously caused this tragedy and they should have to pay.

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