Latest mistake in judgment sparks memory of DUI crash that took Artie Steinmetz

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistOctober 28, 2010 

I remember Artie Steinmetz.

I was covering UK football and Steinmetz had been a star lineman at Covington Catholic High School who had turned down the home-state school to sign with Nick Saban at Michigan State. After his freshman year in East Lansing, however, Steinmetz returned to Kentucky, enrolled at UK and was sitting out the 1998 football season as a transfer.

On the early morning of Sunday, Nov. 15, however, after a night of drinking to celebrate a big Saturday win over Vanderbilt, Steinmetz elected to go deer hunting with teammate and starting center Jason Watts, and EKU student Scott Brock, who was the best friend of UK quarterback Tim Couch.

It became a tragic trip.

As the inebriated trio traveled down U.S. 27 to Somerset, with Watts behind the wheel, the black pickup clipped a mailbox, blew out a back tire and flipped. All three passengers were thrown from the vehicle.

The 19-year-old Steinmetz and the 21-year-old Brock died at the scene.

Watts pleaded guilty to two counts of reckless homicide and served four months of a 10-year sentence before being released on shock probation.

Watts' blood-alcohol level at the crash scene: 0.150.

Matt Roark's blood-alcohol level when charged with a DUI on Sunday: 0.192.

His penalty: A one-game suspension.

The junior wide receiver from Acworth, Ga., was arrested Sunday at 4:50 a.m. when his car hit a parked car at the corner of Montavesta and Wood Valley Court in the Lansdowne Area.

The police report said Roark exhibited "slurred speech" and was "swaying with a staggered walk."

It also said that "heavy damage" was done to both cars. So, to be sure, Roark was extremely fortunate there was no one in the other car.

This isn't to pile on Roark, or bring more guilt to Watts. This isn't to criticize the disciplinary measures of UK football coach Joker Phillips, who said after Wednesday's practice he did not have a set-in-stone policy for alcohol offenders.

"It'll be case-by-case," Phillips said when asked.

In Roark's case, there will be counseling, the one-game suspension for this Saturday's trip to Mississippi State, plus additional disciplinary measures that Phillips said he would keep "in-house."

And for those who see a one-game suspension for a DUI charge as being soft?

"That's not all he's getting," Phillips said. "It's a one-game suspension, but there are other things we will do with Matt."

There was a time, however, when UK's discipline involved much more.

After the death of Steinmetz and Brock in 1998, then-UK athletics director C.M. Newton announced a new department policy in which athletes were dismissed from the team and lost their scholarship for one year upon an alcohol or drug conviction.

In 2000, when UK basketball player Desmond Allison was caught running a red light, with an open bottle of Hennessy cognac at his side, the Florida native ended up leaving school.

When teammate Jules Camara was charged with a DUI shortly after, the policy was amended to allow Camara to stay on scholarship, but he had to sit out a season.

(Camara was charged with another DUI on Monday.)

But then Newton retired, and without any real announcement, policy has changed to where the coach now determines discipline.

In football's case, the program has avoided many of the off-the-field problems that have dogged other schools. This isn't Florida, where Urban Meyer has had about 30 players experience run-ins with the law over the past five years. This isn't Georgia, where 11 football players have been charged or arrested since the end of last season.

And yet, young people still attend school at UK. Young people make mistakes. Some of those participate in athletics. No school is immune.

In that regard, maybe Newton's old policy, however laudable, was unrealistic in the ultra-competitive world of big business, er, collegiate athletics. And with the Roark DUI charge being the first time Phillips has encountered this situation, the first-year head coach deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Still, there should be one thing to remember.

Don't forget Artie Steinmetz.

Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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