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  Priest Charged in Player's Death Night of Drinking Preceded Gaines' Fatal Fall in Church

By Michael A. Fuoco and Ann Rodgers-Melnick
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
August 28, 2003

A Catholic priest was arrested yesterday on charges he contributed to the death of University of Pittsburgh football player Billy Gaines from a 25-foot fall by furnishing alcohol to the wide receiver and five other underage teammates during a June cookout and party at a Homestead church.

The Rev. Henry Krawczyk, 50, surrendered to authorities yesterday morning at the Allegheny County coroner's office, where he was arraigned on a charge of involuntary manslaughter, a first-degree misdemeanor. Later, he was arraigned by Munhall District Justice Thomas Torkowsky on six counts of furnishing alcohol to minors and a single count of reckless endangerment.

Krawczyk was released on his own recognizance pending a Sept. 8 preliminary hearing.

In announcing the arrest, Allegheny County Police Superintendent Kenneth Fulton said he was doing so "with mixed emotions."

"It's very tough for us. We have to charge a priest but we have to think about the victim. ... That's our responsibility," said Fulton, who added he was a Catholic and had never before been involved in the arrest of a priest.

"When you furnish alcohol to people who are under 21, you have to take responsibility for what occurs. Unfortunately, in this case it was a death."

For the Gaines family, the arrest was viewed as "the first step on a long road in seeking justice for the death of their son," their lawyer, Christopher W. Hellmich of the Washington, D.C., firm of Patton Boggs, said at a news conference at county police headquarters yesterday afternoon.

Hellmich said the family is considering filing a civil lawsuit for monetary damages against "all potentially culpable parties."

Krawczyk, in a black suit and gray jersey, was escorted in handcuffs from county police headquarters by detectives and his attorney, David Cercone. He didn't speak with reporters. Cercone said there would be no comment until after the preliminary hearing.

Told that Krawczyk had been taken away in handcuffs, which is county police standard procedure, the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, said, "That is not the image that you want to see."

But, Lengwin continued, with the sexual abuse scandals that have plagued the Catholic Church "it's not as though I've not seen it before. But when it's one of your own, and in this case, one of your brother priests, it's distressing.

"Then again, you have to deal with the image of the young man who fell to his death. That is an image that is even more troubling."

Gaines, 19, of Ijamsville, Md., fell about 2:30 a.m. June 18 from a crawl space above the sanctuary of St. Anne Church in Homestead following a cookout and a night of drinking hosted by Krawczyk. In all, six underage Pitt football players were at the gathering, at which Krawczyk provided alcohol and drank with the youths, Fulton said.

Gaines had become acquainted with Krawczyk in the summer of 2002 through a friend who worked on the church grounds and cemetery. Gaines did the same later that summer.

On May 27, at Krawczyk's invitation, Gaines moved into the closed St. Anne convent along with his roommates and Pitt teammates David Abdul, Stephen Buches, Joseph Villani and Neal Tracey, all 19, and John Simonitis, 18, after a fire had destroyed their Oakland apartment. Gaines and Abdul remained there after the others found another apartment four days later.

Police said all six players attended the cookout and party at which Krawczyk either made them drinks or was there when they helped themselves to alcohol from the fully stocked bar in a converted laundry room in the rectory where Krawczyk lived. In addition, Krawczyk drank shots with them, police said.

At about 2 a.m., Gaines, Abdul and Simonitis went from the rectory to the church's altar where they used the audio system's microphone to sing and act "in an obviously improper manner, which included the use of inappropriate language," according to an affidavit of probable cause. Buches, in particular, took offense at the action and complained to his teammates as well as to Krawczyk but the priest did nothing, the affidavit said. Buches took the matter into his own hands, turning off the system, but it was turned back on and the three young men continued their behavior, according to the affidavit.

"[Krawczyk] could have quelled things by stopping furnishing alcohol when he saw things were getting out of hand and by not allowing Abdul and Gaines [to go upstairs in the church]," Fulton said.

Shortly before 2:30 a.m., about six hours after they began drinking, Gaines and Abdul went into the crawl space area used for building maintenance in the mistaken belief they could find antique markings, police said. In the dark, they crawled on their hands and knees about 76 feet along boards that measured slightly less than two feet in width. Gaines led the way.

They decided to turn around. Abdul, who now was leading, heard a noise and saw that Gaines had fallen off the boards and through the ceiling to the sanctuary below.

"Because he was intoxicated, although he was an athlete, he could not negotiate it," said county police Lt. John Brennan.

Gaines, who struck a wooden pew and the concrete floor, suffered a fractured skull and spinal injuries and died at 11 that night in Mercy Hospital. Tests showed he had a blood alcohol level of 0.166 when he was taken to the hospital. In Pennsylvania, a person is considered legally intoxicated with a reading of 0.10.

Shortly after Gaines' death, Krawczyk left his position as pastor of St. Maximillian Kolbe parish, of which St. Anne is a part. He has been on administrative leave since June 26 and is not permitted to celebrate sacraments in public.

Lengwin said he expected a final decision "fairly soon" on whether Krawczyk could ever return to ministry.

"We expect that a priest, as a representative of the church, will maintain the respect of the community and will live according to the highest values and ideals, in conformity with the laws of the church and civil society," Lengwin said.

The drinking party on June 17-18 wasn't the first time Krawczyk had provided alcohol to the young men or drank with them, police said. Krawczyk had provided alcohol to Gaines and Abdul on at least three other occasions and had hosted at least one other cookout with alcohol for the four players on a weekend Gaines and Abdul were out of town, the affidavit said.

In 1986, former Pittsburgh Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua sent Krawczyk for counseling after hearing from parents who said Krawczyk had served liquor to their 18-year-old son and touched their son's leg after the student passed out.

Lengwin has also said that in 1992 the diocesan Clergy Office received a report from a priest, who said a mother had complained that Krawczyk served beer to her 16- or 17-year-old son. Krawczyk denied the 1992 report and there is no record that he received counseling after that incident, Lengwin said.

 
 

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