A newly filed lawsuit depicts an alcohol-fueled celebration leading to a street race and a fatal car crash that rocked the University of Georgia’s football program.
The school’s athletic department sponsored several events where alcohol was served hours before the Jan. 15 crash that killed football player Devin Willock and recruiting analyst Chandler LeCroy, according to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Gwinnett County State Court by Willock’s father and estate.
The suit also blames the crash on former Georgia defensive star Jalen Carter, who raced LeCroy at speeds that at times exceeded 100 mph on several Athens streets. Carter was driving with a suspended license, according to the lawsuit and to previously undisclosed Florida court documents reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Other defendants include three employees of the UGA Athletic Association, an Ohio car dealership that provided Carter with a high-powered car, and the owner of Toppers International Showbar, an Athens strip club. LeCroy, Carter and others affiliated with the football program gathered at Toppers after a long day celebrating the team’s second consecutive national championship.
Allegations in the lawsuit are “supported by public statements of the university, evidence and statements disclosed in the media by various entities, and our own investigation,” said William Stiles, one of the lawyers representing Devin Willock’s father, Dave.
“Lawsuits are about accountability and justice,” Stiles said in an interview Wednesday, “and Mr. Willock is seeking accountability for all those involved in the death of his son Devin and justice for Devin.”
In a statement, the athletic association denied the lawsuit’s allegations. “The attorneys who filed the complaint have refused to provide any factual basis for their claims against the athletic association, and we believe the evidence will prove them to be without merit,” the statement said. “We intend to strongly dispute these baseless allegations in court.”
Representatives of Toppers, the strip club, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Carter’s agent referred questions to a lawyer who did not respond to a voice mail and a text message.
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com
The lawsuit seeks $40 million from the athletic association and other parties, including $10 million in punitive damages from Carter, recently selected by the Philadelphia Eagles as the ninth overall pick in this year’s NFL draft. Carter pleaded no contest in March to misdemeanor reckless driving and racing charges connected to the crash. A judge sentenced him to one year of probation, fined him $1,013, and ordered him to perform community service and take a defensive driving course.
Last month, Dave Willock’s lawyers notified state officials they intend to also sue the university in a separate legal filing. Because it is a state agency, monetary damages would be capped at $2 million.
Devin Willock, 20, was a passenger in a 2021 Ford Expedition driven by LeCroy, who was 24. The university had rented the SUV to ferry recruits, their families, and others around Athens during the championship celebration.
The lawsuit rebuts statements by university officials who have said LeCroy was not authorized to drive the Expedition at the time of the crash.
LeCroy and Tory Bowles, another recruiting analyst who was seriously injured in the crash, were told the days surrounding the celebration “would be a busy weekend, not their own time,” the lawsuit says. The suit cites text messages in which supervisors in the athletic department told the women to keep the SUVs “through the weekend when all recruiting activities ended and their assigned recruits left Athens.” The suit says the texts indicated the women were not expected to return the vehicles until at least 10 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 15 — more seven hours after the crash.
The supervisors “negligently entrusted a vehicle” to LeCroy despite her extensive history of speeding citations, the lawsuit says. The tickets included one from October 2022 when one of LeCroy’s supervisors was a passenger in her car. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in March that a team official, Bryant Gantt, asked a traffic court clerk in Morgan County to amend that ticket so LeCroy could avoid an additional fine under the state’s super speeder law. The clerk refused because LeCroy already had received at least three other speeding tickets in the previous six years.
On Jan. 14, both LeCroy and Bowles accompanied recruits and their families to university-sponsored events at “various venues, homes and restaurants” where alcohol was served, according to the lawsuit. Those events included a dinner at an Athens hibachi restaurant.
That Saturday evening, the lawsuit said, an assistant football coach took the SUV that Bowles had been assigned to drive, so she rode with LeCroy. About 9:50 p.m., they dropped a recruit at a football player’s dorm before heading to the nightlife district in downtown Athens.
At some point, according to the suit, several players asked the women to accompany them to Toppers, the strip club, where numerous players gathered to celebrate their championship.
At Toppers, the lawsuit says, LeCroy consumed alcoholic drinks, including shots of liquor. Toppers employees were “overserving players and their guests,” the suit says, “providing them free drinks, shots and free champagne bottles.”
By the time of the crash, LeCroy’s blood alcohol content was more than 2 ½ times the legal limit. The lawsuit says Toppers employees should have recognized that she was intoxicated and refused to serve her alcohol.
As they left downtown Athens, headed to a Waffle House about three miles away, LeCroy and Carter “mutually stimulated or goaded each other” to race at high speeds, the lawsuit says. LeCroy passed Carter seconds before her vehicle left the roadway and struck utility poles, trees and an apartment building. Devin Willock was ejected from the SUV and died at the scene. LeCroy was pronounced dead at an Athens hospital.
Carter was driving a 2021 Jeep Cherokee Trackhawk, a high-performance SUV he had received through a name, image and likeness deal with an Ohio car dealer. The vehicle can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 3 seconds.
Carter’s Florida driver’s license had been suspended in November 2022 because he did not complete a court-ordered defensive-driving course, according to court records in Lake County, Florida. He had received a speeding ticket there last summer.
It is unclear why Athens police, in their investigation of the Jan. 15 crash, did not charge him with driving with a suspended license. An Athens police spokesman, Lt. Shaun Barnett, initially said on Wednesday that Carter had a valid license at the time of the crash.
Body-camera footage from police officers at the scene of the crash does not show them asking to see Carter’s license. Police records also indicate that while officers ran background checks on other players who came to the crash site, they did not do so for Carter.
Florida officials reinstated Carter’s license on Jan. 26 — 11 days after the crash in Athens.
Data specialist Jennifer Peebles and staff writer Asia Simone Burns contributed reporting.