New video footage from night of fatal UGA crash details club visit

Toppers’ attorney says video clears club of wrongdoing in multimillion-dollar lawsuit, while AJC review reveals video is inconclusive, raises new questions about football personnel’s visit to strip club that night

Recently released video footage from inside the Athens strip club where Georgia football players and staff celebrated a second consecutive national championship brings new details to light as the club, UGA’s athletic association and others face multimillion-dollar lawsuits in the wake of a fatal Jan. 15 crash.

A lawsuit filed months after the crash, which killed lineman Devin Willock and recruiting analyst Chandler LeCroy, alleged that Georgia football staff and players, some underage, were overserved with free drinks, shots and champagne bottles at Toppers International Showbar. The lawsuit, filed by Devin Willock’s father, Dave Willock, is asking for $30 million in restitution for the death of his son.

Toppers has strongly denied this characterization and, last month, released several hours of video footage it says disproves Willock’s claims and proves the club did nothing wrong. The footage, totaling three hours, was edited by Toppers and tracks Willock and LeCroy through six of the club’s more than 30 surveillance cameras. Toppers declined to release the raw footage to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

At times, the released footage seems to bolster the club’s narrative, but an AJC review of the footage revealed moments that could also reinforce the Willock family’s account of the night. Devin Willock, who was 20 at the time, appears to have received a wristband typically reserved for patrons older than 21. The football players and staff spent much of the night in and around the club’s bottle service section, where patrons can order a bottle of liquor to their table — although Toppers denied the group received bottle service.

The videos also contain significant blind spots, making it difficult to determine how much LeCroy drank that night. None of the camera angles provided in the videos give a clear view into the bottle service section. LeCroy’s blood alcohol level was .197 at the time of the crash, according to a toxicology report.

Still, one legal expert notes that Willock’s lawsuit, often referred to as a ”Dram Shop” case, hinges on a narrow set of facts: Did the bar knowingly provide alcohol to someone they knew to be drunk and was going to be driving?

The video could become a key piece of evidence, said Atlanta-based attorney Lee Parks, who has no involvement in the case.

“The biggest hurdle (for the plaintiff) is if the bar has good video or waitstaff testimony,” Parks said. “They have to be behaving in a way that a reasonable person knows they were intoxicated.”

To that end, LeCroy can be seen ordering just one drink in the edited videos provided by the club. Toppers’ attorneys said she does not show outward signs of intoxication on the video and they believe the footage will ultimately help win their client’s case.

“If you compare the video to what (Willock’s attorney) said happened in the complaint it doesn’t line up,” said Athens-based attorney Kevin Epps, who is representing Toppers.

Willock’s attorney, Terry Jackson, who has not seen the club’s video footage, argued the evidence is clear: LeCroy was intoxicated at more than twice the legal limit at the time of the crash, which was approximately 15 minutes after she left Toppers. Police determined LeCroy was racing through Athens streets at 104 mph moments before her SUV, rented by UGA’s athletics association, left the roadway.

“We know she was there from 1:10 to the time of the collision, and we knew what her blood alcohol was at the time of the collision,” Jackson said.

The public legal sparring comes as the UGA Athletic Association and others have pushed back on allegations that they are liable for the tragic outcome of the crash.

In a legal response last month to a separate lawsuit filed by recruiting analyst Victoria “Tory” Bowles, a passenger who suffered severe injuries in the crash, the athletic association claimed LeCroy and Bowles had been drinking at three other bars before they arrived at Toppers. Bowles should have known LeCroy was intoxicated before getting in the black Ford Expedition rented by UGA for the championship celebration, the association said.

The night

The club’s edited surveillance footage begins with Willock and LeCroy’s arrival at Toppers shortly after 1:00 a.m. on Jan. 15. The pair were with several members of Georgia’s football team and recruiting staff, including Bowles and lineman Warren McClendon, a passenger who survived the crash with minor injuries.

Credit: Toppers International Showbar

Credit: Toppers International Showbar

Toppers’ video, first reported by 11Alive News, shows the club was packed that night. Willock appeared to be wearing a 21-and-older wristband issued by the club — although he never appeared on the footage with a drink in hand. Shortly after arriving, Bowles and LeCroy are seen ordering drinks near a bar in the back of the club. This is the only time in the edited videos that LeCroy can be seen ordering a drink.

Approximately twenty minutes after the players and football staff arrived, the group left the bar area and walked into an elevated seating area near the dancer’s stage typically reserved for patrons who order bottle service. Minutes after they settle in, an employee can be seen on the video walking into the section with a bucket with sparklers and a bottle.

Toppers attorney Adam Hoipkemier said the bottle service was not for the players, but for an unrelated group who were also in the bottle service area. The AJC could not verify Hoipkemier’s claim as the angles provided in the video do not give a clear view into the section.

The group of players and football staff is seen spending the rest of the night inside or near the bottle service section. Toppers said none of the more than 30 cameras in the club offer a clear view of the area.

At 1:50 a.m., 40 minutes after LeCroy and Willock arrived, another group of UGA players can be seen arriving on the Toppers videos. Among them was former Bulldogs defensive star Jalen Carter, who was arrested in March after an Athens-Clarke County police said Carter raced LeCroy at speeds around 100 mph moments before LeCroy lost control and crashed into the side of an apartment complex.

LeCroy, Willock and the rest of the players and staff can be seen leaving the club at 2:30 a.m. The crash occurred roughly 15 minutes later.

Credit: Photo provided by Ceciley Pangburn

Credit: Photo provided by Ceciley Pangburn

The Willock family said Toppers employees should have known LeCroy was too drunk to drive and should have cut her off and prevented her from getting behind the wheel, the lawsuit alleges. The club denies the allegations.

Toppers’ attorneys say LeCroy’s lack of obvious intoxication on the video will help them ultimately prevail in court.

“We don’t see any way that anyone at Toppers would have been able to look at her and determine that this was someone that either was about to drive or shouldn’t be driving,” Hoipkemier said.

In addition to the video, the two sides will also review other evidence, which is typical in dram shop cases, Parks said.

“They’ll look at the tab, who paid for the tab, were there other witnesses who saw how they were behaving?” Parks said. “Were they yelling and screaming or just being polite and having a drink?”

Toppers has been sued at least once before under Georgia’s dram shop law. In 2014, Toppers settled for an undisclosed amount when a patron sued the club and another restaurant after he was severely injured in a drunk driving accident involving someone who had been drinking at the club, court records show.

In their lawsuit, the Willock family also named several other defendants, including the UGA Athletic Association, Jalen Carter and the Ohio-based dealership that provided Carter with a Jeep Cherokee Trackhawk he was driving the night of the crash. Nearly all defendants have filed replies denying many of the Willocks’ claims. A judge has yet to rule on any of the motions.

There’s no indication in the Toppers videos that Carter was drinking at the club. When Carter is visible in the videos released by the club, he does not have a drink in hand and police have said he did not exhibit signs of being intoxicated.

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