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Priest charged in Gaines' death

Posted: Wednesday August 27, 2003 3:10PM; Updated: Wednesday August 27, 2003 6:50PM
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PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A Roman Catholic priest charged Wednesday with involuntary manslaughter in the death of a University of Pittsburgh football player supplied alcohol to the 19-year-old sophomore before he fell through a church ceiling and struck his head on a pew, police said.

The Rev. Henry Krawczyk, who resigned as pastor of St. Maximilian Kolbe parish in Homestead last month, was charged in the June 18 death of Billy Gaines. Gaines died about 20 hours after falling at St. Anne Church, where he and a teammate were crawling in the rafters more than 25 feet above the church floor.

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Authorities said the two were searching for mysterious markings or symbols said to be located in the church, which is part of the parish. Authorities found no such markings.

Gaines, a 5-foot-7, 170-pound receiver and kick returner from Ijamsville, Md., had attended a cookout at the church, where he and the teammate, David Abdul, were staying temporarily after a fire destroyed their apartment in May.

Krawczyk knew Gaines, Abdul and four other men who attended the cookout were all under the legal drinking age of 21, according to police.

An autopsy showed Gaines' blood-alcohol content was 0.16 percent, above the 0.1 percent legal limit for adult drivers.

Besides the manslaughter count, Krawczyk, 50, was charged with six counts of furnishing alcohol to minors and one count of reckless endangerment. Involuntary manslaughter is punishable by a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Krawczyk refused comment as he was led from Allegheny County police headquarters in handcuffs for arraignment. He was freed on recognizance bail.

A lawyer for Gaines' family said the family was weighing whether it would file a lawsuit in Gaines' death.

Authorities said the priest -- who had been accused of providing alcohol to underage people in the past -- held the cookout at the parish, mixing drinks and even providing the young men with drink recipes, according to court documents.

Gaines and Abdul arrived around 8:30 p.m. June 17 and soon started drinking, police said. The other four men, who also had lived temporarily at the parish but moved out, joined the party at around 10 p.m., authorities said.

Krawczyk told police he had four rum and sodas with the group, according to court records.

"At no time during the evening did Krawczyk attempt to stop any of the minors present from drinking alcohol," court records said.

Gaines and Abdul entered the church after 2 a.m. and, a short time later, went exploring in the darkened crawl space above the sanctuary, police said. Gaines fell after crawling roughly 76 feet on wooden planks in the ceiling, authorities said.

One of the other men at the party, Joseph Villani, 19, told police that Krawczyk later said he should have locked the area providing access to the crawl space, saying it was opened so Gaines could do laundry.

When Villani said he wasn't blaming Krawczyk, court records said Krawczyk allegedly told the young man, "I'm the adult."

Police said that by supplying alcohol to Gaines, Krawczyk was responsible for actions that led to his death.

Police said Krawczyk also had provided alcohol to the young men before. A week before the accident, Gaines told friends that Krawczyk wanted him to drink with him and he felt "compelled" to do so because Krawczyk had given him a place to live, authorities said.

Fulton said none of the players would be charged. Pitt spokesman E.J. Borghetti declined comment when asked if any of the other players face discipline or have been been disciplined.

Krawczyk resigned from pastoral duties on July 3. The Rev. Ron Lengwin, diocese spokesman, said Krawczyk remained a priest Wednesday and that no decision would immediately be made whether to ask him to resign from priesthood. Krawczyk could resign without being asked, Lengwin said.

Any decision by the diocese won't be driven by the criminal investigation, Lengwin said.

"We expect our priests to exercise sound moral judgment," Lengwin said.

In 1986, a family accused Krawczyk of providing alcohol and marijuana to their 18-year-old son. Krawczyk acknowledged providing beer but denied the other allegation, the diocese has said.

Six years later, a woman told the diocese she believed Krawczyk had provided alcohol to her teenage son, and Krawczyk denied the allegation, the diocese said.

No legal action was taken against Krawczyk. After the first accusation, the diocese said Krawczyk underwent a psychological evaluation and was allowed to remain in the parish.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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