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Booze, drugs, guns and football

The murders of Brett Harman and Kevin McCann outside an N.C. State football game last year were a tragic--and almost predictable--ending.


Inside Wake County Courtroom 3C last week, the mood matched the weather--a sullen, omnipresent haze floated over the proceeding. Outside, the pavement was reduced to the consistency of taffy, orange traffic cones softened to the point that they were falling over like melted candles.

In a land that has turned murder into a spectator sport, here's a dandy recipe: Amid a backdrop of the stylized aggro of football and several cases of cheap beer, stir in a fifth of Captain Morgan rum, sprinkle in some weed, cocaine, some truly stupid driving, and for that extra kick, a .45 Glock autoloading pistol. Shake and serve ice cold.

Boy, oh boy, talk about a train wreck you could see coming a mile off. This mercifully distanced observer is left to wonder: Just what ails these people?

The facts of the Johnson murder case are straightforward enough: Tony Johnson, hothead brother of the defendant, Timothy, 23, enters a parking area near Carter-Finley Stadium last Sept. 4 and, after nearly running over several people, is stopped and assailed by future shooting victims Brett Harman--a Marine officer about to head off to Iraq--and his buddy, Kevin McCann. Tony leaves and returns sometime later, and the dispute moves to the vicinity of where his brother Timothy, the "nice" one, is armed with da Glock, gleaned from a prior home invasion. And then? A numbingly familiar American event, exceeded in banality only by the sport itself. Timothy Johnson is on trial for his life, charged with two counts of first-degree murder. Tony Johnson goes on trial on the same charges in October.

I have never understood the allure of organized sports, but especially college football. The whole thing is a bloated, over-hyped waste of time, physical health and academic credibility. Hey, if I ruled the world, I would just cut the whole shebang loose and go back to what schools are for--education (a quaint concept, I realize). But besides the obscene nature of the spectacle, there is also that sports events engender the worst sorts of emotions in people; they are, after all, little more than glamoured-up combat. Just as people often drive like lunatics after auto races, the deliberate whipping up of game day mixed with a buncha booze is an accident waiting to happen, one I'm surprised hadn't happened sooner.

There are a whole lotta shouda, woulda, couldas to this case. If everyone involved had not engaged in mechanical, ritual drinking to sickness, if the victims hadn't inflamed the situation by reacting as they did, if Timothy had left the gun home, we would have two not-dead guys. Criminal cases are all about black/white. In civil law, there is a notion of shared responsibility that doesn't exist in criminal law. If the facts of the case turn out to be as they seem, that the victims, instead of trying to calm the situation down, heightened the latent hostility, my sympathies are at a flat-line. It is easy to walk away from a fight. It is such a common, stupid ending to an autumn afternoon that to examine it as anything more than a curious ritual these strange, murderous humans seem to revel in would be a waste of time, save for the heartbreak these people have caused their families and friends. Americans and their guns. No surprise actual civilized nations are horrified by American culture and its obsessive interest in death and murder.

Now, onto law enforcement's role. I've been to enough of these sorts of events to know that it's sort of a plum duty for a cop to sit in an idling Crown Vic and watch the chickies go by. How great is that?

In the case of the Johnson mess, one is led to wonder that with all those police assets on the ground that day, and all the oceans of alcohol being poured (and its proven ability to turn normal people into raging assholes), why wasn't there some sort of plan to at least monitor the potential trouble spots especially after there had been multiple collisions between Johnson's car and some other vehicles?

Monday morning quarterbacking (so to speak) is of questionable value, and I understand that there have been some changes (no more than five hours of ritualistic boozing and no overnight camping), but I am left wondering: What is the value of straining overtaxed police resources to provide security for sporting events and not provide security?

A friend of mine was traveling down Trinity and it was obvious that the crowd in the parking lot was in a boisterous, rowdy mood. The simple act of having a marked vehicle would have gone a long way toward keeping the events from spinning so horribly out of control.

If a business is negligent in providing for your safety and you are victim of a crime due to that negligence, they can be sued for damages. In this particular case, besides flushing the whole filthy business of college ball, a lawsuit may be just what is needed to get the attention of NCSU, the football community and the mass of the public.

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