The University of Georgia has fired the football recruiting staffer who survived the January crash that killed recruiting analyst Chandler LeCroy and football player Devin Willock, less than a month after she filed a lawsuit against the university’s athletic association.
Victoria Bowles, who goes by Tory, learned of her termination on Friday. Her attorneys, Rob Buck and Phil Boston, claim the University of Georgia Athletic Association retaliated against her for filing the lawsuit in July.
The lawsuit, against the athletic association and others, alleges negligence in entrusting LeCroy — who had a history of speeding tickets — with the black SUV the association rented to transport recruits during a championship celebration weekend in January. The SUV was traveling 104 mph moments before LeCroy lost control and exited the roadway.
The attorneys say Bowles’ firing is the latest tactic in a “campaign of intimidation” that has included efforts to gain access to the contents of her private cellphone beginning when she was hospitalized after the crash. Bowles, a backseat passenger in the SUV, suffered severe injuries, including multiple fractures, organ lacerations and a spinal injury that may progress to paralysis, the lawsuit said. She had been on paid medical leave for a couple months following the crash, before the athletic association placed her on unpaid leave in March, records show.
Buck, her attorney, was critical of the university’s treatment of his client in the months since the crash: “Tory, like all other perceived liabilities to the football program, became expendable to UGA, and despite her loyalty and meager salary, has been steamrolled.”
Central to UGA’s reason for her firing was her unwillingness to submit to interviews for an internal investigation related to the crash as well as an athletic association review of what UGA officials say is a potential NCAA violation mentioned in her lawsuit, according documents obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The UGA athletic association said in a statement Monday that it wished Bowles well in her recovery, even as it explained why it fired her.
“Applicable policies require university employees to cooperate with internal investigations,” the statement said. “Over the course of several months, Ms. Bowles was asked—on numerous occasions—to speak with our investigators and provide information, and through her attorney, she repeatedly refused to cooperate. As a result, we were ultimately left with no choice but to terminate her employment.”
In a termination letter sent to Bowles on Friday, Amy Thomas, associate athletic director — human resources, wrote that Bowles had other obligations.
“You are also required to cooperate in any investigation of potential NCAA rules violations,” the letter reads.
It is unclear exactly what potential NCAA rules violations the athletic department is referencing. Bowles’ lawsuit does not assert that she witnessed NCAA violations.
The lawsuit describes what is says is an unofficial recruiting dinner with UGA coaches, recruiting staff and recruits at an Athens restaurant on the evening of Jan. 14, just hours before the crash. The lawsuit says that UGA assistant football coach Chidera Uzo-Diribe, who was present at the restaurant, asked Bowles to use his ATM card to bring him $1,000 in cash before the dinner was over.
After his card was denied at a nearby ATM, Bowles and LeCroy used an SUV rented by the athletic association to go to another ATM, where the card was again declined. Bowles eventually went to her home and cobbled together $1,000 by dipping into her own money, using cash she had saved up from babysitting and Christmas, the lawsuit said.
When she returned to the restaurant, Bowles delivered the cash to Uzo-Diribe. The coach paid her back the $1,000 through Venmo, the suit alleges. UGA assistant football coach Glenn Schumann, who was also at the dinner, told Bowles that he was taking her assigned recruit axe throwing at a local establishment, the lawsuit alleges. The lawsuit says she gave Schumann the keys to the rented red SUV she had been assigned for the weekend’s recruiting activities.
The NCAA has strict rules governing what a football program can pay for and how it must conduct itself during unofficial recruiting visits.
Since shortly after the crash, the university has maintained that LeCroy and Bowles were not authorized to use the rented SUV at the time of the crash and it should have been returned earlier that evening after their recruiting duties were completed. Personal use of the vehicle was “strictly prohibited,” according to an athletic association statement issued in January.
Bowles’ lawsuit mentions Uzo-Diribe’s request for her to obtain cash to help illustrate that personal use of rental vehicles was not prohibited, contrary to the athletic association’s claims, her attorneys said. There’s no indication in the lawsuit exactly why the coach wanted Bowles to deliver $1,000 to him that evening.
“The complaint alleges the money was for the Coach’s personal use, and based on our review, we have no reason to disagree,” the athletic association said in its statement issued Monday.
UGA’s deputy athletic director William Lawler, who oversees the athletics compliance office, contacted Bowles’ attorneys on July 13 — the day the lawsuit became public — to demand that she sit down for an interview as part of a review.
“We have received information that Ms. Tory Bowles may have been involved in or have knowledge of possible NCAA rules violations,” Lawler wrote in a July 13 email to Buck, adding later in the email: “While it is unclear whether any NCAA violations occurred, it is imperative that we speak with Ms. Bowles no later that 5 p.m. tomorrow, July 14, 2023, to preserve the integrity of the review.”
Her attorneys said she intends to fully cooperate in any investigation regarding the crash as part of her lawsuit, but will not submit to an interview otherwise. They claim the demands include attempts to obtain numerous texts on Bowles’ personal cell phone between her and various football staffers and coaches related to recruiting activities.
Text messages from Bowles’ phone have emerged as evidence in the lawsuit. Included in the lawsuit are several texts from her phone that appear to contradict the athletic association’s claims regarding the rental car usage policies.
“The demands to interrogate Tory, and have access to her phone, all relate to UGA’s and the Association’s attempts to avoid liability for the crash and preview or eliminate damaging information,” Buck said.