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February 28, 2004

Murder Raises Recruiting Questions

FROM A HARDSCRABBLE NORTHWEST KANSAS TOWN comes word that a Fort Hays State University freshman was beaten unconscious and died two days later. Four football players were charged with aggravated battery.

Fort Hays is a D2 school with a 5000 students. The town of Hays has 20,000 residents.

Fort Hays has historically been a haven for rapscallions and revelers. “Wild Bill” Hickok was sheriff in the 1860s. General George Custer was another infamous citizen.

Custer’s wife later remarked "there was enough desperate history in that little town to make a whole library of dime novels."

With such a unseemly past--and with student drinking a national dilemma—it is no surprise that drinking and raucousness are now commonplace at Fort Hays State.

Since three of the suspects had previous criminal records, many question whether coach Tim O'Connor is bringing in the right caliber of players.

"Boo" Deary was convicted of attempted felony sexual abuse at a juco dorm. He got a year's probation and 15 days in jail.

Christopher Ross was found guilty of misdemeanor criminal mischief in Texas for attacking a car with a baseball bat. He got a year's probation. In Hays last September Ross was cited for disorderly conduct after leaving a bar at 2 AM. He pleaded no contest.

Jaime Lopez was involved in two incidents while at Indiana State in 2001. He was charged with felony battery after an altercation with a police officer. Because Lopez didn't show up for a subsequent court date, there's a warrant for his arrest.

Lopez was also part of a group of football players who stormed a fraternity house armed with bats. Frat members were injured, and the house was damaged. The players were ordered to pay restitution. However, Lopez did not pay and his scholarship was revoked. From there he went to Fort Hays.

These were not exactly model citizens. One wonders how bad their records would have to be for them to be passed over by the football program?

An editorial in the Hays Daily News questioned the suspects’ legal backgrounds, "Even if the four suspects are exonerated, (this) paints a picture of a band of bullies. And it also illustrates a look-the-other-way attitude when it comes to student-athletes."

There were conflicting statements to police regarding the savage beating. One witness heard victim Clint Johnson hit loudly with “two loud bams” and saw Llamas holding a bat. Llamas says Deary did it. “Boo” Deary says he took the bat away from Llamas and threw it under a car. Another witness claims to have seen Ross kick the victim’s face.

As if the finger pointing weren’t enough, Llamas and Lopez were recently charged with witness intimidation.

Fort Hays president Edward Hammond claims that the perception of the problem at the school is much greater than the reality.

"If anything, we have a better environment than some institutions," he said.

Ahem. That statement would seem to be a tough sell to any person of reasonable judgment.


(this 497 word excerpt was culled from a 2715 word article in the Dallas Morning News of 2-23-04)