Weeks before a violent crash rocked the University of Georgia’s football program, a team official learned that a staff member had an extensive record of speeding and intervened to minimize her latest citation.
Nevertheless, the football program allowed recruiting analyst Chandler LeCroy to continue driving prospective recruits around Athens in university vehicles after she received her fourth speeding ticket in six years on Oct. 30. On country roads, on city streets, on four-lane highways, the police cited LeCroy, 24, each time for driving at least 19 mph over the speed limit.
After the latest ticket, for driving 77 mph in a 55-mph zone, a football team official who frequently intercedes when players get into trouble tried to get LeCroy’s penalties reduced in court, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows. Bryant Gantt, the team’s director of player support, asked a Morgan County court clerk to amend the ticket to indicate LeCroy was driving only 14 mph over the speed limit, the clerk said. The change would have allowed LeCroy to avoid an added $200 fine under the state’s super speeder law, as well as points on her driver’s license that could lead to a suspension of her driving privileges.
“Based on her history, I said, ‘No, not at all,’” the clerk, Shalisha Sanders, said in an interview. “She didn’t qualify for a reduction.”
Less than three months later, LeCroy’s habit for fast driving ended in tragedy.
Early on Jan. 15, LeCroy raced defensive star Jalen Carter through Athens after a day and night of celebrating Georgia’s second consecutive national football championship. Driving a Ford Expedition rented by the university along a street where the speed limit is 40, LeCroy hit 104 mph seconds before losing control and striking utility poles, trees and an apartment building. The crash killed LeCroy and offensive lineman Devin Willock, 20, and injured recruiting analyst Tory Bowles and lineman Warren McClendon.
A judge recently sentenced Carter, a top prospect in this year’s NFL draft, to one year of probation on misdemeanor charges of racing and reckless driving. Police files reviewed by the Journal-Constitution indicate that investigators considered charging Carter with felony vehicular homicide.
Credit: Source: Athens Clarke-County Police
Credit: Source: Athens Clarke-County Police
University officials have blamed LeCroy for the crash. She was not authorized to use the Expedition the night of the crash, officials said, and a toxicology examination determined she was intoxicated.
“It should have been understood,” football coach Kirby Smart said during a recent news conference, “that you cannot take a vehicle when you’re not doing your duties, and they were not participating in their duties at that time.”
Regardless, he added, “we’ve got complete control of our program and our kids in our program.”
Neither Smart nor other officials have answered questions about how the football program monitors its employees’ use of university vehicles. Both Smart and Jere Morehead, the university’s president, have declined interview requests from the Journal-Constitution since the crash.
In a statement late Thursday, the athletic department said Gantt’s involvement with LeCroy’s ticket “was purely in his personal capacity as a favor to a friend based on his knowledge of traffic court proceedings.”
“Mr. Gantt did not attempt to influence the clerk in any way” and made no inappropriate requests, the statement said.
In a second statement Friday morning, the association said that “athletic department administration” had not been made aware of LeCroy’s latest ticket.
Still, Gantt’s previously unreported involvement in the ticket calls into question assertions by Smart and other officials that no internal policies needed to change after the fatal crash.
At the same time, Gantt’s attempt to help LeCroy — the first known instance in which he tried to intervene in the legal system for a paid staff member rather than a student-athlete — could amplify the university’s legal liability in the episode. That may be especially true because Gantt also apparently involved himself in citations last fall that accused Carter — the only other driver known to have been involved in the fatal crash — of excessive speeding and other traffic violations.
A history of speeding
One rainy Sunday last fall, LeCroy was speeding along the backroads of Morgan County when a deputy sheriff pulled her over beside a cow pasture.
It was about 4 p.m., one day after Georgia played Florida in Jacksonville. LeCroy was headed north toward Athens on a side road that can be used as a shortcut to bypass Madison and the more heavily traveled U.S. 441.
The deputy’s radar device showed that LeCroy was driving 77 mph. The speed limit was 55. Because she was exceeding the limit by more than 20 mph on a two-lane road, she faced an additional $200 super speeder fine, as well as three points on her driver’s license.
Within days, Gantt sought help from Sanders, the traffic clerk in Morgan County Probate Court.
Sanders was familiar with Gantt, she said, from times he had spoken to her office for football players who had received citations in Morgan County, about 30 miles south of Athens.
“I’m his go-to in Morgan County,” Sanders said.
But she told Gantt that because of LeCroy’s history of speeding — with tickets issued in Wilkes and Jenkins counties and in Athens — neither she nor, most likely, a judge would reduce the ticket’s severity.
Gantt did not press the matter further, Sanders said. LeCroy paid the $209 fine online on Dec. 9, court records show. It was up to the state Department of Driver Services to collect the additional super speeder fine and to add the points to LeCroy’s license.
It is not clear whether Gantt informed other athletic department officials about LeCroy’s latest ticket.
University policy requires employees whose duties include driving — as LeCroy’s did — to complete an annual driving course and consent to a yearly review of their driving records. Employees can continue driving university vehicles until they accumulate 10 points on their licenses.
In its statement on Friday, the athletic association said the university conducted a background check on LeCroy when she was hired full time in 2021 and its insurance carrier performed a routine check of her driving history in June 2022.
That review “did not reveal any driving information that disqualified Ms. LeCroy from driving or cautioned a need for additional evaluation,” the statement said. Another check of her driving record had been scheduled for this June.
On Saturday, Jan. 14, the day Georgia celebrated its win in the College Football Playoff national championship game, LeCroy was assigned to shepherd prospective recruits around Athens. Cell phone locator data obtained by the Athens police and reviewed by the Journal-Constitution shows LeCroy made several trips back and forth across town throughout the day.
It is not known when she was supposed to turn in the Expedition — or whether anyone with the athletic department knew that she kept it after hours. But LeCroy went downtown about 10 p.m., the cell phone data shows, and the Expedition was parked on Clayton Street in Athens’ nightlife district.
She was part of a large group of football players and staff members who entered Toppers International Showbar, an Athens strip club, after 1 a.m. Sunday. The group stayed until after closing time, heading out about 2:30 a.m. for a Waffle House.
Leaving downtown, LeCroy pushed the Expedition to keep up with Carter’s Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. At one point, Carter swerved into oncoming lanes to pass a group of cars, and LeCroy performed the same maneuver, surveillance video shows.
The last image of the two cars came from a camera posted outside a gas station on Barnett Shoals Road, less than three miles from downtown. LeCroy passed Carter in the right-hand lane at 99 mph, according to a police analysis.
A computer attached to the Expedition’s air bag system showed she was driving 103.5 mph five seconds before the crash and 104.2 one second later. When the Expedition came to a rest, crumpled against an apartment building after crashing through utility poles and trees, the speedometer was stuck at 83.
Paying in cash
Gantt gets involved almost every time a Georgia player gets into trouble with the law, from felony arrests to traffic violations. He appeared as a character witness at a bond hearing for a player accused of rape. He has arranged for players to turn themselves in to the police on criminal charges and accompanies players when they are questioned about alleged crimes committed by teammates.
In the weeks after the Jan. 15 crash, for example, Gantt escorted two witnesses — linebackers Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Xavian Sorey Jr. — to the Athens police headquarters for interviews, according to videos in the crash investigation file obtained by the Journal-Constitution. In both instances, videos show, Gantt sat in the room as officers questioned the players. Neither player gave the police incriminating information.
Two days after LeCroy received her last speeding ticket, Gantt apparently helped resolve a citation for the other driver in the fatal crash: Carter.
On Nov. 1, according to records in Athens-Clarke County Municipal Court, a person named “Gant” appeared at the clerk’s office to pay Carter’s $288 ticket for parking in a space for handicapped drivers.
Gantt may have also appeared for Carter in October, records indicate. A person identified in a court clerk’s cursive notation that seems to say “Grant” and “coach” waived Carter’s right to contest four citations in court. No one named Grant works for Georgia’s football program.
The citations, one of which was for driving 89 mph in a 45-mph zone, carried fines that totaled $1,365. All were paid in cash.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has provided extensive coverage of a fatal car crash on Jan. 15 that killed a University of Georgia football player and a recruiting analyst. Previous stories have reported that recruiting staff and players had left an Athens strip club minutes before the crash, that the police allowed a football team official to access the crash scene and that the police questioned UGA star Jalen Carter about racing the car that crashed. For the latest, go to ajc.com.