Posted: Thu January 23, 2014 11:39AM; Updated: Thu January 23, 2014 11:38AM
Thomas Lake
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Why did Josh Brent and Jerry Brown not learn from previous tragedies

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Josh Brent, a former tackle for the Dallas Cowboys, faces up to 20 years for intoxication manslaughter.
Josh Brent, a former tackle for the Dallas Cowboys, faces up to 20 years for intoxication manslaughter.
Ronald Martinez /Getty Images

This story appeared in the May 13, 2013, issue of Sports Illustrated and is being republished in the wake of Josh Brent's Jan. 22 conviction of intoxication manslaugher of Jerry Brown.

October 20, 1987

Jerry Jerome Brown Jr. comes along at a strange time in history: a time when humans willingly enter cages of glass and steel that move in such great numbers at such terrific speed that a subtle turn of the steering wheel can easily result in death.

Anyone with clear eyes and a steady hand can accidentally make this subtle turn in a single moment of inattention. And every night in every county in every state, probably on every road, someone tries to avoid this mistake while drunk. In 1987 on the roads of the U.S., 23,632 people will die in alcohol-related car crashes. If today is an average day, these crashes will kill 65 more people by midnight. If the deaths come at regular intervals, they will come every 22 minutes.

A thin crescent moon rises at 5:03 a.m. over the hospital in St. Louis where a 19-year-old factory worker named Stacey Irons waits for her son. He is two weeks past due. She has been here since yesterday morning. The labor-inducement drugs are not working. Fluid builds up. The pain is excruciating. That's gonna be a good baby, says Stacey's mother, Theresa Clark. 'Cause he's takin' his time.

Two hours and 12 minutes pass between moonrise and sunrise. Six more dead. The boy's father, Jerry Brown, stands at the bedside. He calls Stacey his first love. In eight months they'll be married; in eight years, divorced. Twelve years after that a state trooper will find Jerry Sr. drunk in a Chevy Blazer on the side of an interstate with his seven-year-old daughter and an open bottle of beer.

Afternoon comes with a high of 55°. The doctors break Stacey's bag of waters, hoping the boy will arrive before the Cardinals game. He does not. The Twins lead the World Series two games to none. John Tudor throws the first pitch of Game 3 at 7:30 p.m. in a stadium named for a king of beer.

Gone are the days when Mickey Mantle could get hammered at dinner and drive home at 60 mph and collide with a telephone pole and launch his wife through the windshield without being arrested or appearing in the news. Mothers Against Drunk Driving is seven years into its sobering campaign. It has more than 300 chapters, 600,000 volunteers, the approval of President Reagan. In public-opinion polls, MADD will soon be named the country's favorite charity. On billboards, radio and television, the message is ubiquitous: Friends don't let friends drive drunk. But MADD has a long crusade ahead. Twenty years from now the Cardinals will ban alcohol from the clubhouse after manager Tony La Russa falls asleep at the wheel from too much wine and pitcher Josh Hancock dies from smashing drunk into a flatbed truck.

The doctor puts the game on the radio. The Twins take a 1--0 lead in the sixth, but the Cardinals score three in the seventh on a two-run double by Vince Coleman and an RBI single by Ozzie Smith. The game lasts two hours and 45 minutes. Seven more dead. The Cardinals will win 3--1. At 9:54 p.m., Jerry Jr. is born. He weighs less than six pounds. Stacey looks in amazement at the tiny creature who's been kicking her in the ribs.

Elsewhere tonight, in bars across Missouri, the best baseball fans in America celebrate their victory with cold American beer. Then they get on the road.

October 20, 1988

For Jerry's first birthday, Stacey buys him a motorized toy car large enough to ride on the sidewalk. He's a happy little boy. A picture shows him grinning as if he's just been told some wonderful secret. And he's still very small. Stacey is afraid he'll take after his great-uncle Jerry, who stands less than four feet tall.

Early this morning, 550 miles away, Lions defensive end Reggie Rogers loads up on beer and gin at Big Art's Paradise Lounge in Pontiac, Mich. With a blood-alcohol level of about 0.15, well above the threshold for intoxication, he slams his red Jeep Cherokee broadside into a Plymouth Horizon that contains Kenneth Willett, 19; Kelly Ess, 18; and Dale Ess, 17. The crash breaks Rogers's neck and nearly severs his right thumb. All three teenagers, who are also drunk, are killed. Rogers will be convicted of negligent homicide and serve 12½ months in prison.

December 24, 1988

The New York Times publishes a story about a new gadget designed to stop drunken driving. The ignition interlock requires would-be drivers to give a breath sample. The sample is analyzed for alcohol. If there's too much, the interlock prevents the car from starting. Already 11 states have passed laws approving the device, and more than 200 judges have ordered convicted drunken drivers to use it. The article quotes Gregory Stevenson, a 28-year-old car salesman in Pennsylvania, who calls the device a "godsend" and says, "The interlock is giving me a year to get used to functioning without drinking and driving."

April 8, 1991

Bill Shoemaker, perhaps the best jockey in history, drinks some beer after a round of golf and drives his Ford Bronco over a 50-foot embankment near San Dimas, Calif., breaking his neck and damaging his spinal cord. Authorities measure his blood-alcohol content at .13. A friend tells The Orange County Register, "I've seen him drink a lot more and drive." Shoemaker, 59, will spend his final 12 years in a wheelchair.

March 20, 1993

Jerry Brown Jr. is five years old when his mother and father separate. Jerry Sr. will later accept the blame. He stayed out too long throwing darts, shooting pool, drinking. Jerry Jr. gets by with attention from his mother and grandmother. He still seems happy. Grandma, can I help you? he asks. Do you need anything? I can take this trash out.

March 22, 1993

At Little Lake Nellie in central Florida, three pitchers for the Indians take a boat ride in the dark. Two are sober; the third, Tim Crews, is drunk. He drives too fast and slams into a wooden pier at head level. Bob Ojeda survives, though part of his scalp is torn off. Steve Olin is killed. Crews dies from his injuries a few hours later. Each dead man leaves a wife and three children.

October 24, 1994

Erik Williams, one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL, goes out drinking with other Cowboys at the Iguana Mirage club in Dallas and then drives his $120,000 Mercedes into a retaining wall. He survives and plays for another seven years, but never quite as well.

December 1, 1994

Seahawks running back Lamar Smith drinks two or three beers at Seattle's Shark Klub and multiple shots of whiskey at a T.G.I. Friday's. Driving an Oldsmobile Bravada with two teammates on board, he jumps a curb and smashes into a utility pole. Injuries from the crash leave defensive tackle Mike Frier paralyzed. In connection with a civil suit, Smith will agree to give Frier up to half of his earnings from football for seven years.

August 10, 1997

After divorcing Jerry's father, Stacey marries Dwjuan Jackson, a corrections officer who also coaches youth sports. He becomes Jerry's personal trainer. At age nine Jerry runs sprints with a tire around his waist. He shows promise in football.

October 19, 1998

Driving his Lincoln Navigator drunk through a red light, Rams linebacker Leonard Little broadsides a Ford Thunderbird and kills its driver, 47-year-old Susan Gutweiler, on her way to pick up her son from a concert. A police report later obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes Little as telling an officer, "I know my rights. The [expletive] ran a yellow light and hit me, wrecking my $45,000 [expletive] car. Just take me to the hospital. I don't have [expletive] to say." He will plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and receive a 90-night jail sentence that lets him play football during the day.

May 3, 1999

After a season-ending playoff loss to the Bruins in Boston, the Hurricanes drink beer on their charter flight home to Raleigh. Then several veteran players drive to the home of left wing Gary Roberts to drink more and commiserate. Someone calls a cab for defenseman Steve Chiasson, but he gets tired of waiting and heads for his pickup truck. With his blood alcohol more than triple the legal threshold of intoxication, he runs off the road and hits an embankment. He is thrown from the truck and killed. According to the Associated Press, his two-year-old daughter will see his picture at a memorial service and say, "There's my daddy."

2001

Jerry Brown thrives on his mother's cooking: spaghetti, chicken wings, cheesecake. Fears about his lack of size prove unfounded. In eighth grade he stands nearly 6'2" and weighs almost 200 pounds. A teacher asks what he'll be when he grows up. Jerry's answer: NFL football player.

September 16, 2001

On a two-lane highway in Wyoming, a drunk 21-year-old steer wrestler named Clinton Haskins drives his pickup truck across the center line into the path of a Jeep Wagoneer that carries eight distance runners from the University of Wyoming: Joshua Jones, Kevin Salverson, Nicholas Schabron, Shane Shatto, Morgan McLeland, Kyle Johnson, Justin Lambert-Belanger and Cody Brown. All eight runners are killed. Haskins will plead guilty to aggravated homicide by vehicle and be sentenced to 14 to 20 years in prison.

June 3, 2002

Debbie Weir joins MADD as vice president of Victim Services at the national headquarters in Irving, Texas, less than three miles from the home field of the Cowboys. After dramatic gains and widespread popularity in its early years, MADD has reached a point of diminishing returns. It lobbies for tougher laws, but the beverage industry fights back. Others argue that MADD's well-meaning efforts infringe on the rights of responsible drinkers. Since 1994, alcohol-related traffic deaths have held steady at about 17,000 per year.

Nevertheless, Weir goes to work every day with the belief that drunken driving can be eliminated in her lifetime. In MADD's headquarters on the seventh floor of the 511 Building, overlooking the John W. Carpenter Freeway, the hallways are lined with photographs. Thousands of them: mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, all injured or killed by drunken driving. Some of the dead are frozen in their happiest moments—a woman in her wedding dress, a teenage boy at the senior prom—and some are shown with the wounds from the crash. As Weir walks to and from her office, the pictures flash by in her peripheral vision. Sometimes a face catches her eye for the first time, and she has to stop and look.

October 22, 2004

Jerry Brown and the Wolverines of Vashon High ride a bus through the urban wasteland of northwest St. Louis, singing the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song as they go: "In West Philadelphia born and raised/On the playground was where I spent most of my days...."

These days are the best of Jerry's life. His mother is now a trained chef, and she cooks for him both at home and at school, where she works in the cafeteria, and he and his friends cruise around town in his black Mitsubishi Galant and polish off three or four pounds of wings in one sitting at Syberg's on Market Street. Jerry is so big and tough that no one hassles him about his interest in fashion design, which extends to drawing pictures of pantsuits and sewing a dress that a female classmate wears to a fashion show. He's so lovable that he and his friends can walk into school around the middle of first period without serious consequences. That's Jerry: arriving on his own time since the day he was born. He's so talented that he can spend hours on video games and Airsoft rifles and still be the Public High League's defensive player of the year.

The Wolverines' bus pulls up to Gateway Tech. Every Vashon game is an away game. The Wolverines have no home field. To practice they change into football gear at a rec center with no real locker room and then walk to a public park and run their plays on a field without lines where their coach is sometimes interrupted by the crack of gunfire.

The team huddles around Jerry. He is its most versatile weapon: defensive end, blocking tight end, long snapper, tackler on kickoffs, occasional kicker. He bounces up and down as his teammates chant in unison.

What we gonna do, Jerry Brown?

We gonna block, we gonna tackle, we gonna hit, we gonna win!

They do. Jerry is nearly unblockable. He and the other defenders sack Gateway's quarterback three times and force three interceptions. The Wolverines take a comfortable lead into the second half. And then Jerry the blocking tight end runs a Seven Route, a post corner, and his friend Reggie Cross sees him open. Jerry catches the ball and runs for a touchdown, still wearing his lineman's gloves.

September 2-3, 2006

At Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill., the Fighting Illini open their season with a 42--17 win over Eastern Illinois. Jerry Brown watches from the sideline. Heavily recruited in high school, Jerry chose Illinois because it's close to St. Louis—and because he expected major playing time as a freshman. But according to his mother, a strange thing happened when he left for college. He started at 282 pounds and quickly fell past his target weight of 270, down to 245. Although a bounty of good food was available at the training table, it wasn't like his mother's cooking. He couldn't put the weight back on, and the coaches redshirted him. He will not play a down this year.

Sometime tonight, 2,000 miles to the southwest, Chargers linebacker Steve Foley goes out to a nightclub in San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter. Around 3 a.m., Foley fires up his vintage Oldsmobile Cutlass and goes careering up Route 163 with a blood-alcohol level nearly triple the threshold for impairment. He is spotted by Aaron Mansker, who drives a black Mazda and wears jeans and a white T-shirt. Ten years ago, when Mansker was 13, his father was killed by a drunken driver. Now Mansker is a police officer who watches for drunken drivers even when he's off the clock. As Foley weaves through traffic, going as fast as 90 mph, Mansker follows. At a cul-de-sac near Foley's home, the linebacker gets out of the Cutlass and confronts Mansker, who identifies himself as a police officer but does not show his badge. When Foley advances on him, Mansker fires a warning shot. Foley reaches for his waistband, although he will prove to have been unarmed. Mansker shoots him in the knee and hip, ending his football career. Foley will win a $5.5 million civil settlement for the incident, but his limp will remain after 12 surgeries.

October 6, 2007

With a 14-game winning streak and a No. 5 national ranking, the Wisconsin Badgers visit Memorial Stadium on a sweltering afternoon. The Illini finished 2--10 last year, worst in the Big Ten, but this year head coach Ron Zook has one of the nation's best recruiting classes. Football observers are astonished by his salesmanship. Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin all wanted Josh Brent, a 320-pound defensive tackle from Bloomington, Ill., but Zook sold Brent on Illinois, where he now plays alongside Jerry Brown.

On Wisconsin's second drive, Jerry and a teammate tackle running back P.J. Hill for a one-yard loss. It is Jerry's only recorded statistic of the game, one of just nine tackles he'll have all year, but it must feel wonderful after the disappointment of his redshirt season. Illinois takes a 17--0 lead in the second quarter and holds on to win 31--26. The band plays something festive. The temperature reaches 91°, but the fans stay in the bleachers, savoring the moment. Jerry and five or 10 teammates go up to celebrate with them. Half the crowd yells, I-L-L! The other half responds, I-N-I! Back and forth. I-L-L! I-N-I! Jerry lets it wash over him. On a joyful impulse, he takes off a thick gray lineman's glove and hurls it into the crowd.

November 2007

Stacey leaves St. Louis for the outskirts of Champaign so she can live with and cook for her son, who is still dissatisfied with the food at the university. Jerry shares a four-bedroom apartment with three football teammates; he gives his room to his mother and sleeps on the couch. In return he gets homemade spaghetti, hot wings, chili, broccoli, mashed potatoes, rolls and smoked turkey legs. The four players eat like kings. On future Sundays, Josh Brent will come over and fill his plate.

December 28, 2007

Jim Leyritz, the catcher known for the home run that helped the Yankees win the 1996 World Series, goes out drinking in Florida to celebrate his 44th birthday. At an intersection in Fort Lauderdale, his Ford Expedition collides with a Mitsubishi Montero driven by 30-year-old bartender Fredia Ann Veitch, who is killed in the crash. Leyritz will be acquitted of DUI manslaughter—partly because of conflicting evidence about which driver ran the red light—but convicted of DUI. He will reach a settlement worth about $350,000 with Veitch's family.

February 2008

Stacey moves to her own place in Champaign. Pay your rent, Jerry, she reminds him.

O.K., Mama, he says.

May 2008

Mama, Jerry says on the phone, can you come help me move my stuff? 'Cause I got put out.

After spending his money irresponsibly and failing to pay his rent, Jerry has been evicted. Fortunately he has a friend who will take him in: Josh Brent.

June 28, 2008

The San Diego Union-Tribune runs a front-page story on Safe Ride Solutions, a car service designed to stop pro athletes from driving drunk. The company was dreamed up by a police officer after Steve Foley drove drunk and got shot. Safe Ride employs off-duty or retired cops: With one call, a player can get a ride home for himself and his car. NFL executives like the program so much that they've helped make it available nationwide.

Frequent DUI headlines might make it look as if pro athletes drive drunk more often than average citizens. An analysis by USA Today in 2012 will suggest that is probably not the case: NFL players are arrested on drunken-driving charges less often per capita than members of the general population. What distinguishes the sports figures is their financial ability to hire drivers. And now, with Safe Ride Solutions, they have fewer excuses to drive drunk than they ever had before.

October 18, 2008

Jerry Brown makes two tackles in a 55--13 win over Indiana, the last two tackles of another disappointing season. Feeling betrayed by his coaches because of his lack of playing time, he's entered a spiral of self-destructive behavior: driving without a valid license, missing traffic-court dates, skipping classes. He's on the verge of becoming academically ineligible.

January 1, 2009

A new law takes effect in Illinois: Drivers charged with DUI for the first time must have an ignition interlock installed to monitor their breath alcohol if they want to drive legally while their licenses are suspended. If the driver's alcohol level is above .025, the car won't start.

February 21, 2009

After drinking at Station 211 on Green Street in Champaign, Josh Brent speeds down Lincoln Avenue in a borrowed Oldsmobile Eighty Eight. A police officer pulls him over, tests his blood-alcohol level, finds it above .11 and places him under arrest.

March 14, 2009

Browns wide receiver Donté Stallworth drinks premium tequila at a Miami Beach hotel bar and then hits a jaywalking pedestrian with his Bentley. Mario Reyes, a 59-year-old crane operator, is killed. Stallworth will later plead guilty to DUI manslaughter and serve 24 days in jail and two years' house arrest.

April 25, 2009

At the annual spring game, Jerry Brown leads all Illinois defenders with two sacks and six tackles for loss. "But it's a little too early to get high on Jerry," Ron Zook tells the Decatur Herald & Review. "We all know he's talented, but he has some academic issues to get cleaned up."

June 2, 2009

Josh Brent pleads guilty to DUI and accepts a sentence of 60 days in jail and two years' probation. Meanwhile Jerry Brown, having tried and failed to raise his grades, is finished with college sports. He will soon try out for the Arena Football League.

June 25, 2009

Twenty-two years after killing three teenagers while driving drunk in Michigan, former Lions defensive end Reggie Rogers appears before a judge in his home state of Washington. He has racked up at least four drunken-driving convictions since 1986. "I'm not perfect," he tells the judge. "I'm a man. I like to stand on my own two feet. I'd really appreciate if ... you and the courts and the people of the community give me a chance. You know what I'm saying. Give me a chance. To be Reggie. Stand on my back like you did when I was playing college football, and basketball, and carried this whole team, this whole state, on my back. To the promised land." The judge sentences him to two years. Next year while on work release, Rogers will be charged again with driving drunk and given a year in prison.

October 27, 2009

Josh Brent, back on the Illinois football team after getting out of jail, attends a court-ordered victim-impact panel. A woman in a wheelchair tells the story of the drunken driver who turned her into a quadriplegic. A guilty man tells about the day he drove drunk and smashed another vehicle and then waited for an ambulance while holding the hand of the man he had killed. In essence both speakers make the same point: It's too late for me to avoid a catastrophe. But it's not too late for you.

May 16, 2010

Anthony Jansen graduates from Illinois with a degree in general engineering and a shoebox whose contents include a thick gray lineman's glove with the number 99 written in black on the wristband. He took it home that day in '07, not knowing whose it was, and later he looked up the Illini roster and matched the number to a name: Jerry Brown. Jansen kept the glove pinned to a bulletin board above his desk, occasionally showing it to visitors, marveling at its size, remembering how it felt to stand in the hot sun and share a victory and reach past another fan to catch an unexpected gift.

July 15, 2010

The Cowboys select defensive tackle Josh Brent in the supplemental draft. His Illinois driver's license is both expired and revoked. Twenty-three years ago, Gregory Stevenson called the ignition interlock a "godsend" because it helped him break the habit of driving drunk. But the interlock never came into play for Josh, because he never applied to legally drive during his suspension. Nor did he get the license reinstated.

August 12, 2011

Jerry Brown recovers a fumble for the Jacksonville Sharks in their 73--70 win over the Arizona Rattlers in ArenaBowl XXIV. At age 23 he's still fighting for the same thing he wanted 10 years ago: a chance in the NFL. Around this time one of his former coaches at Illinois talks with sports agent Chad Wiestling. Take a look at Jerry Brown, the coach says. If he'd finished his college career, he could've been a top draft pick.

September 27, 2011

With help from Wiestling, Jerry joins the practice squad of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football League.

October 18, 2011

Jerry leaves the Tiger-Cats to explore his NFL options. In the spring he'll work out for the Jets and the Eagles without being offered a contract.

May 12, 2012

Now with the San Antonio Talons of the AFL, Jerry has two sacks in a 68--52 win over the Pittsburgh Power. Earning $500 a game, living off his parents and struggling to pay old debts from Illinois, Jerry seems to realize that time is running out. After practice he stays on the field with line coach Corey Mayfield to work on exploding out of his three-point stance. Mayfield, a former NFL lineman, looks at Jerry: 6'4", 265 muscular pounds, agile enough to do a flat-footed backflip. And Mayfield thinks, There's no way this guy should be stuck in this league. He and Wiestling keep working their NFL connections, drawing interest from the Cowboys and the Colts. Both teams invite Jerry to work out. He visits the Colts first.

May 25

The Colts sign Jerry as a free agent.

August 31

The Colts cut their roster to 53 players. They have no room for Jerry.

September 1

The Colts sign Jerry to their eight-player practice squad. He's not one of their top 53, but he's one of their top 61. You've still got a pulse, Wiestling tells him. You're just an injury away.

October 9

The Colts move Jerry to their active roster.

October 14

Jerry plays on special teams in his first NFL game, recording no stats in a 35--9 road loss to the Jets. Stacey and Dwjuan watch on NFL Sunday Ticket. Afterward, Jerry calls Stacey. He sounds happy. Did you watch the game? he says. I had so much fun.

October 16

The Colts waive Jerry.

October 17

The Colts sign Jerry back to their practice squad.

October 20

Stacey plans a trip to Indianapolis to cook Jerry dinner for his 25th birthday, but he cancels. Later she'll find out why: The Colts released him from the practice squad. For a while he had been very good at showing up on time. But then he was late for a meeting or two, and it cost him his job. That misstep will change the course of his life. The Cowboys have been watching him, and in a few days they'll call him to Texas for a spot on their practice squad and a reunion with his old friend Josh Brent. Once again, Josh will offer Jerry a place to live.

November 1

"This is the menu for Christmas," Stacey tells Jerry in a text message. "Fried turkey, roast, baked turkey, greens, ham hock, sweet potatoes, mac and cheese, corn bread, dressing, cheese cakes and some cakes some sweet potato pies and pecan pies and cranberry sauce! YUM YUM tell jb [Josh Brent] I need to cook at his house on the 24 of December! love u how are u feeling?"

Jerry reviews the menu and sends a request from his new roommate: "Turkey neckbones need to b added."

November 28

Jerry sends Stacey a text message with an ultrasound picture. "This is my daughter at two pounds," he writes. A girlfriend in San Antonio will give birth in two months. The stakes are higher than ever for Jerry. Maybe he's finally growing up. He and Josh eat together, work out together, study the plays together. Now in his fourth NFL season after flunking out of Illinois, Josh has become a starter on the Cowboys' defense. Jerry is on the verge of making the active roster.

December 7-8

On Friday afternoon at MADD headquarters, Debbie Weir finishes a busy week. The holidays are the worst time of year for drunken-driving fatalities. There are candlelight vigils to organize, symbolic red ribbons to be tied on cars. Next Monday, MADD will send out a press release celebrating a milestone in the fight against drunken driving. In 2011, for the first time since MADD was founded, fewer than 10,000 people were killed in drunken-driving crashes. Only 9,878. One every 53 minutes.

Weir is nine months into her job as MADD's chief executive officer, which comes with a corner office on the seventh floor of that glass and polished-stone building overlooking John W. Carpenter Freeway. Beyond her curving window in the cloudy afternoon, cars pass beneath a railroad bridge. New photos keep arriving, new pairs of eyes to stare at Weir as she walks through the hallways: A college kid in yellow running shorts. A woman and her three daughters. A boy with blood on his face and a teddy bear under his chin. The sun sets on Irving, Texas, and 50 people leave MADD headquarters after another week of failing to work themselves out of a job.

Friday night comes, and the temperature remains in the 50s. It's a good night to go out. The Cowboys don't go wild as they did in the '90s—Jerry Jones, the owner, has spent a lot of time and money reining them in—but at least some enjoy the nightlife. If you're a young pro athlete and you want to see and be seen on a Friday night in Dallas, you'll probably wind up at the Privae Members Lounge.

From the outside it doesn't look like much, sitting behind a Burger King off Walnut Hill Lane in a freestanding hulk of yellowish concrete. As a whole, the nightclub is called Beamers, but on the left side an outdoor stairwell under a black awning leads up to the entrance of Privae. The dress code is posted online. Men may not wear Ed Hardy or Coogi or ball caps or V-necks. Women are encouraged to wear heels, dresses, skirts and high-end designer clothing. "From time to time," the code says, "we make exceptions to our door policy and you WILL see people inside the venue who are out of dress code. It is NOT your place to get upset and/or point them out to management or security. There is a reason they were allowed in the club and will NOT be explained." It doesn't say all Cowboys are allowed at all times in all attire, but it might as well.

Inside you find plush booths by a long bank of tall windows through which the chosen few can look down at the dancers on the floor of Beamers. By midnight the room is nearly full, and if you want those women in heels and dresses and skirts and high-end designer clothing to visit your table, it's not a bad idea to spend several hundred dollars on a bottle or two.

At 1:05 a.m. on Twitter, a message comes from the account of a local event promoter: "I have 12 #Cowboys in theeee building!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! #Privae"

Some time after this, Josh Brent has a choice to make. He's spent time in jail for driving drunk. He's heard the entreaties of a quadriplegic woman and a brokenhearted man. He's attended several lectures required by the NFL and the Cowboys on the subject of driving drunk. He can call a confidential safe-ride service administered by the NFL Players Association. He can call one of two limousine services affiliated with the Cowboys. He can call a member of the Cowboys' staff whose job it is to be available all day and all night to help the players however he can. Josh Brent does none of those things. According to a police report, his blood-alcohol level will later be measured at 0.189, more than twice the legal threshold of intoxication. He gets in his white Mercedes and starts the engine.

Jerry Brown has a choice too. He could call those numbers, or he could demand the keys from his friend. Subsequent tests will indicate that he's less drunk than Josh. But he carries no driver's license. And it's his friend's car, and he lives in his friend's home, and his team was his friend's team first, and—Jerry gets in the Mercedes.

Thirteen days from now, 10 days after Josh attends Jerry's memorial service and nine months before he goes on trial on a charge of intoxication manslaughter, Jerry's mother will walk to the mailbox and remove a manila envelope. Inside she'll find a single gray lineman's glove and the letter that tells its story. "If this glove and this story helps you be happier through the holidays," Anthony Jansen will write, "then I think we both know why Jerry threw his glove to me that day."

The nightclub is less than five miles from Josh Brent's apartment. The white Mercedes travels northwest on the service road of the Carpenter Freeway. Straight ahead is a railroad bridge, the same bridge Debbie Weir can see from her corner office. The Mercedes is a mile from the 511 Building, on the road that leads to its entrance. For 32 years the occupants of the seventh floor have tried to prevent what happens next. All it takes is a tire against the curb. The chain reaction begins. Jerry Brown's fate is in Josh Brent's hands. They are almost home.

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