Football and drinking a deadly mix

By James


(U-WIRE) LEXINGTON, KY. — University of Kentucky football player Jason Watts has been charged with second degree manslaughter and drunken driving following an automobile crash that killed a teammate and another friend.
A blood sample taken from Watts showed the starting center had a blood-alcohol level of 0.15, according to the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department. A driver is presumed intoxicated in Kentucky at a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 or higher.
Pulaski County Attorney Fred Neikirk said a criminal summons was issued Tuesday ordering Watts to appear in Pulaski County District Court on Dec. 17 for arraignment.
Watts will not be arrested, Neikirk said.
Watts was driving his 1985 Chevrolet pickup just before 7 a.m. Sunday on U.S. 27 north of Somerset when he lost control and the truck flipped. UK redshirt freshman Arthur Steinmetz, 19, and Eastern Kentucky University student Christopher Brock, 21, were pronounced dead on the scene.
Watts remained in fair condition Tuesday night at UK Hospital, where he underwent a second surgery to clean a 12-inch gash to his right forearm. The procedure was to be repeated Wednesday, said Dr. James Lovett, the plastic surgeon who operated on Watts.
As the UK football team returned to the practice field Tuesday for the first time since the accident, UK head coach Hal Mumme and his players would say nothing about the accident or the charges against Watts. Reporters were instructed by the university not to ask players about the situation.
Junior quarterback Tim Couch, who was a close friend of Steinmetz, made only brief mention of the subject that has darkened the mood of the football program for the last three days.
“I thought we were real focused,” he said, “considering what we’ve been through these last few days.”
UK is preparing for a weekend game at No. 2 Tennessee.
In a statement, UK Athletics Director C.M. Newton said, “We are aware of the results of Jason Watts’ blood-alcohol test taken at the scene of the accident. With this becoming a legal matter, we will not make any further comment on the issue. Our best wishes and prayers continue to be with the families affected by this tragedy.”
When a reporter asked Mumme about the team’s alcohol policy, the coach responded, “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?”
A Lexington bar owner told the Kernel Tuesday that Watts and Brock, along with two or three other players, had visited his establishment early Sunday morning. The players were elated after Saturday’s 55-17 home victory over Vanderbilt.
“I was watching a replay of the Vanderbilt game at about midnight, and they came upstairs to the den and shot the bull with me,” said Jim Haney, owner of Haney’s Tavern on Leestown Road.
Haney’s bar is adjacent to his residence. He said he did not know Steinmetz, and was not sure whether he had also been there.
Haney said the men did not drink on his property. They appeared sober when they arrived, he said. They left a couple of hours later, saying they needed to rest for a Sunday morning deer hunting trip.
“(Watts) didn’t look like he had even had a drink,” Haney said, his eyes red and watery. “They just sat up there and watched the game with me. Where they went from there, I don’t know.”
Haney said UK football players often visit the small bar, which is decorated with UK bumper stickers and photos of UK players, and that he frequently attends games and practices.
Steinmetz’ older brother, Matt Steinmetz of Elsmere, said the results of Watts’ blood-alcohol test were upsetting.
“I was hoping that wasn’t the case,” he said. “It changes completely the way I feel. It goes from being an accident to being someone’s fault, with drunken driving.”
This column originally appeared Wednesday in the Kentucky Kernel (University of Kentucky). Send comments to [email protected]