Carroll knew about coach's drug addiction before car crash
DL coach Dave Watson received thousands of pain pills from USC doctors
Watson caused a serious car accident in May 2008 and was arrested for DUI
Pete Carroll knew about Watson's addiction, but kept him until well after accident
Source says Carroll was served on Monday with a subpoena to testify in case
At just past 2 p.m. on May 17, 2008, El Segundo, Calif., police officer Cory McEnroe arrived at the scene of an auto accident on the Pacific Coast Highway and found a Jeep Commander buried in the rear end of a Volkswagen Passat. When McEnroe approached the SUV and asked the driver to turn it off, the Jeep instead surged forward into the Passat again. McEnroe quickly deduced that the driver, later identified as USC assistant football coach Dave Watson, was dangerously impaired. The 31-year-old Watson "seemed very confused," McEnroe wrote in his report. "[His] speech was so slurred I had a difficult time understanding him."
After McEnroe helped him from the SUV, the 255-pound Watson, who was uninjured, "staggered towards the curb while I supported him by holding onto his arm," according to the accident report. McEnroe tried to give Watson a field sobriety test, but had to stop "because Watson was so impaired I was concerned he was going to fall down and hurt himself."
Another officer searched Watson's vehicle and found four bottles of prescription pills, including one written for 90 tablets of a Vicodin-like painkiller called Norco that had been filled that morning. Except now there were only 83 pills left. Watson would later admit having taken three Soma pills (a prescription muscle relaxer) prior to the crash.
Meanwhile, inside the Passat, which had been struck by Watson's USC-provided Jeep a total of three times, 54-year-old Alaric Valentin was holding his back. Valentin declined medical treatment at the scene, but has since has sued both Watson and USC due to "numbness in his left foot ... persistent pain in his lower back [and] limitations with sitting, standing and walking [caused by] disk protrusion with annular tear at L4-L5 [vertebrae]," according to documents obtained by SI.com.
Eight months after the accident, following which Watson was charged with DUI and pleaded no contest in exchange for three years' probation, Watson was fired by USC coach Pete Carroll. The reason cited by Carroll: Watson was too hard on his players. Neither the accident nor the fact that Watson had been addicted to pain medication was mentioned. At a deposition for the civil suit in November, Watson indicated that he didn't accept the explanation Carroll had given him as the truth.
Watson also confirmed under oath what those closest to him already knew: that he had developed a significant addiction to painkillers since his college playing career in the 1990s. When asked where he had received his prescriptions while coaching at USC, Watson gave the names of 12 doctors associated with the university, six of whom were team doctors for USC football. Watson had already provided the court extensive documentation of these prescriptions, including dates, drug names and pill amounts.
When asked separately if he had ever notified a supervisor of his addiction, Watson said yes, he had told his boss and mentor, Carroll, in February 2008, three months before the car accident.
This latest revelation moved Valentin's attorneys to argue that Carroll is partly responsible for his injuries, pointing out in a letter to USC's counsel that Carroll "is the direct supervisor of Mr. Watson ... had actual notice of Mr. Watson's prescription pill addiction, actual notice that Mr. Watson was using a car provided for work use by USC, [and] actual notice of the fact that USC team doctors were writing the prescriptions for the drugs to which Mr. Watson was addicted, and nonetheless continued to allow Mr. Watson to use the company car."
Carroll hasn't shown up for scheduled depositions in the case, but on Monday afternoon a source close to the situation says that Carroll was served with a subpoena compelling him to testify in a deposition.
The civil suit seeks compensatory damages from Watson and USC believed to be in the seven-figure range to cover medical bills, future medical bills, pain and suffering, and legal costs incurred by Valentin, who was scheduled to undergo a pre-surgery MRI on Jan. 18.
The lawsuit is just one of the problems now besetting Carroll, once the darling of college football. A home loss to Arizona, followed by a victory over Boston College in the Emerald Bowl ended the Trojans' worst season (9-4) since Carroll took over at USC in 2001, and was followed by allegations that his star running back, Joe McKnight, had been driving a Land Rover owned by a local businessman (McKnight and USC have denied any wrongdoing). This on top of the lingering NCAA investigation into improper benefits allegedly given to former Trojans star Reggie Bush, which, along with several disciplinary matters during Carroll's reign, has contributed to the belief among some that Carroll has had as much control of his program as Watson had of his SUV. Carroll has been annually courted by the NFL, but the recent problems at USC, on and off the field, are believed to be a major reason he left USC on Monday to become the Seattle Seahawks' head coach.
The circumstances of the Watson case do not suggest that USC broke laws or NCAA rules. Rather, they have brought attention to a troubling blind spot within college athletics. As a recent investigative series by the Charleston [S.C.] Post and Courier revealed, the NCAA does not monitor the use of prescription drugs within college athletic programs, not even with players. "Just way too much to try and get a handle on. Simple as that," an NCAA official who requested anonymity told the Post and Courier. "We just don't have the staff as it is."
Oversight of the prescribing of medications to athletes is left up to the individual schools. USC uses a software system that tracks medications according to an identification number assigned to each athlete, which allows the school to produce detailed reports if and when needed. According to court documents, this oversight system either did not apply to USC coaches or was not used to monitor Dave Watson.
The list of drugs prescribed to Watson by his various doctors during his four-year employment at USC includes often-abused, potentially addictive medications such as Vicodin, Xanax, Valium, Darvocet, Percocet, Lorazepam (known by its trade name, Ativan) and Dilaudid, in addition to the Norco and Soma found in Watson's Jeep after the collision. Watson was also prescribed potent but lesser-known medications such as Oxymorphone hydrochloride (trade name Opana, a powerful opioid painkiller), Clonazepam (trade name Klonopin, which Watson said he took for "anxiety due to pain"), and the painkiller Tramadol.
Pain management is an inexact, evolving branch of medicine that tries to address a difficult challenge: qualifying someone's pain and prescribing the correct type, potency and quantity of any number of volatile medications to ease suffering. Among the complications in Watson's case is that his medications were prescribed by at least 31 doctors during his employment at USC. According to a panel of pharmacists and pain management specialists consulted for this story, that's an egregiously high number. "It certainly appears the team doctors weren't communicating with one another as to what he was taking," said the director of a pharmaceutical company that supplies drugs to numerous college teams.
Dr. Francis Palumbo -- a pharmacy professor and lawyer, and the executive director of the Center on Drugs and Public Policy at the University of Maryland-Baltimore -- declined to comment specifically on the ongoing Watson litigation, but said that any time there are a large number of doctors involved experts suspect what they call "doctor shopping."
"These patients often spread their prescriptions over multiple doctors and pharmacies to prevent individual doctors from knowing how much of these drugs they're taking," Palumbo said. "I can't say that that's what happened here, but it happens a lot."
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