Family of Pitt Player Files Suit Lawsuit Seeks $75 Million after Fatal Fall in Church

By Marylynne Pitz
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
September 23, 2003

The parents of University of Pittsburgh football player Billy Gaines, who fell through a ceiling in a Homestead church after a night of drinking, have filed a lawsuit seeking $75 million from church officials and the priest who served liquor to their son.

Gaines, a 19-year-old wide receiver, died on June 18 after a cookout at St. Anne Catholic Church that police said was hosted by the Rev. Henry Krawczyk.

Krawczyk, 50, faces criminal charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and furnishing alcohol to minors. He is on administrative leave and is banned from offering sacraments in public.

The Gaines family's wrongful death lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, names five other defendants -- Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Homestead, St. Anne Catholic Church in Homestead and Our Lady of Joy Parish in Plum.

Gaines' parents, Kimberly Ann and William Samuel Gaines of Ijamsville, Md., are seeking $75 million in punitive damages. They also are seeking damages for pain and suffering and for Gaines' potential earnings.

The Gaines family claims Wuerl and all of the other defendants knew Krawczyk had served alcohol to minors on previous occasions and had engaged in "inappropriate sexual conduct involving minors" but was never removed from positions where he would have contact with young people.

The defendants "did not supervise or investigate Krawczyk's behavior to prevent repeat offenses against minors," the lawsuit says.

At Krawczyk's invitation, Gaines and his friend, David Abdul, moved into a convent at St. Anne Catholic Church on May 27 after a fire severely damaged their apartment earlier that month. In the summer of 2002, Gaines had done landscaping work at the parish.

On June 16, the Monday before the ill-fated Tuesday night cookout, Krawczyk served at least 10 cocktails to Gaines and Abdul and also showed them a pornographic videotape in the rectory, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit alleges that the pastor "had a subscription to the Playboy Channel on his satellite television service."

Then, Krawczyk took Gaines and Abdul up two flights of stairs to a utility room, through a window and onto the rectory roof. Afterward, Krawczyk did not lock the door to the utility room, which also allowed access to an attic and a crawl space.

The next night, which was June 17, Krawczyk hosted a cookout at the rectory for Gaines, Abdul and their friends: John Simonitis, 18, Stephen Buches, 19, Joseph Villani, 19, and Neal Tracey, 19.

During the evening, Krawczyk "challenged at least one of the minors to a drinking competition," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that Gaines had between six and nine drinks a few hours before his death. At Mercy Hospital, Gaines had a blood alcohol level of 0.166, well over Pennsylvania's limit of 0.10 at which a driver is legally intoxicated.

In the early morning hours of June 18, Gaines and Abdul took Simonitis up on the rectory roof to show him the spectacular view. The three men told Krawczyk they were going to the rectory roof and he did not try to discourage them, the lawsuit says.

The three young men passed through the unlocked utility room door that Krawczyk had used the night before. After seeing the view from the rectory roof, the three friends re-entered the rectory through the window and returned to the utility room.

In that utility room, Gaines and Abdul climbed a short ladder next to the window and crawled into an attic, then ventured into a crawl space.

When Gaines turned around to return downstairs, he fell from the crawl space, through the ceiling of the church sanctuary and onto a pew about 25 feet below. He died at 11 p.m. on June 18.

Gaines' parents contend that Krawczyk should not have served liquor to their son or allowed him to go to a dangerous area in the rectory while he was visibly intoxicated.

On Oct. 27, 1992, Wuerl promoted Krawczyk to pastor at St. Maximilian Kolbe in Homestead, which includes St. Anne Church. A month later, the priest was accused of serving liquor to minors, including a teenage boy, the suit says. Diocesan officials reprimanded Krawczyk but allowed him to keep his new job.

Krawczyk's lawyer, David Cercone, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, a spokesman for the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese, said diocesan officials learned of the lawsuit on Friday.

Lengwin declined to comment on allegations that Krawczyk showed pornography to Gaines and his friends.

"We have stated from the beginning of this terrible tragedy that we have acted very responsibly," Lengwin said. "The civil suit is a matter that will now be resolved in the courts. Our response as a church from the beginning of this tragedy has been to pray for Billy Gaines, his family and friends and all of those affected by his death and we will continue to do that."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.