Ann Collins, Ray's older sister, will never forget his final night. It was cold, with a slight wind. Antioch, as always, was quiet. At about 10:30 Ray and Duke roared up to the front of her house, yelling and cussing and laughing. They were drunk. "Ray came in, and he picked up my little girl," recalls Ann. "He said, 'You wanna see Uncle Billy bum his hand?' He turned on the stove and started putting his hand over it, and she started to scream."
As she talks, Ann sits on a couch in her house, surrounded by Lacy, Amy and their parents. They have told the story hundreds of times. "He put his keys down on the table," continues Ann. "So I picked them up and put them in the kitchen." Then she called her father.
Billy lived just down the street. Three minutes later he came through Ann's front door and approached his drunk son. This was the moment when everything came out. "You want a piece of me, motherf——-?" Ray yelled. The two started fighting—"Carbon copies of each other," Ann says—breaking a coffee table, knocking over a wood stove. All the pain and sorrow of a year in one last bout. "Finally," says Ann, "Daddy picked up a piece of wood that was beside my stove, and he hit Ray on the head. He was trying to knock him out so he'd stay there." Ray, blood rushing down his face, kneeled and sobbed, "They did this to me.... They did this to me!"
Billy was crying too. Ann gave him the car keys, and he handed them to Duke. "I want you to take him straight home," Billy said. "Do not let him drive."
Billy left the house, as did Ray and Duke. Outside, Ray made his friend give him the keys. "When me and Billy got in the car," said Duke, who died this summer, "he said I had to let him drive. So I let him drive. What was I supposed to do?"
Not more than 10 minutes later, Ann heard sirens whiz past her house. She asked her husband, Jerry, to make sure it was nothing serious. When he returned, however, his face was pale and expressionless. "Jerry never told me Ray was dead," says Ann. "Just that Ray was in an accident, and his eyes were open."
Lacy, meanwhile, was on the way home from a date. He noticed the flashing lights and pulled up to Collins Creek. That's the last time he saw his brother—lying on the ground, eyes open, sticking halfway out of a battered and overturned car. "It was cold as hell," says Lacy, "and I asked why they didn't have a blanket on him. That's when they told me, 'Well, he's dead.' "
In October 1986 Resto and Lewis were brought to criminal court by the state of New York. Following a long, highly publicized trial, Resto was convicted of assault, conspiracy and criminal possession of a deadly weapon (his fists) and sentenced to a maximum of three years in jail. He would serve 2½. Lewis, convicted of assault, conspiracy, tampering with a sports contest and criminal possession of a deadly weapon, was sentenced to a maximum of six years. He too would serve 2½.
Despite overwhelming evidence that the boxing career of Billy Ray Collins Jr. was ended prematurely by illegal means, the Collins estate (Billy Sr., Andrea and Alisha) never got a dime. After Ray's death, which mooted the $65 million lawsuit that he and his family had filed in July '83, the Collins estate filed another suit, against the New York State Athletic Commission. That one went on for 10 years—until, on Sept. 12,1994, a judge ruled in favor of the commission. According to Charles Robinson, a New York City lawyer who represented the estate, the case centered on how to interpret the commission's rule on glove inspection. The Collins estate argued that the inspectors had an obligation not only to glance at the gloves but also to feel them on Resto's hands, to look inside them—to do everything to ensure they had not been tampered with. The commission countered that inspecting is a very broad term that means many things. Did the inspectors have to do anything beyond what they did? It was not clear.
Lawyers for the commission also argued that responsibility for the inspectors' behavior belonged not to the commission but to Top Rank, the promoter, which hired them. Perhaps most important, says Robinson, "when the son died in the auto accident, it ended all potential future damages for loss of earnings, for pain and suffering, because he was no longer alive. And we couldn't tie his dying in that accident to the incident in the ring, because they were two separate situations."