The sharp knock on the door and the brusque shout of "Collinsville police" shattered the predawn quiet, the ominous soundtrack to a life that had fallen off a cliff. There is no telling where the sickly thud will occur when any mortal hits bottom, especially one as talented and handsome and gregarious and beloved as Kevin Stevens, a man without an enemy in the world if you overlook the demon of addiction. Room 239 of a Travelodge motel—$47.68 a night, double-double, smoking—in the St. Louis bedroom community of Collinsville, Ill., is as good, or bad, a place as any.
"Who is it?"
The voiced repeated "Collinsville police," but this time there was no reply. Stevens, a 34-year-old New York Rangers left wing, a former All-Star who was facing an uncertain hockey future, was inside, transfixed by the presence of something more powerful than even the law: crack cocaine. Stevens is a close friend of Wayne Gretzky, a former teammate in Los Angeles and New York. He is tight with Mario Lemieux, once his linemate in Pittsburgh. For more than a decade Stevens had walked with hockey's kings. In the early morning of Sunday, Jan. 23, in a modest motel on the eastern side of the Mississippi River, Stevens's companions were Pamela Velia and Darryl Crawford, described by police as a prostitute and her pimp. Crawford had his affiliation with the Vice Lords street gang tattooed on his right forearm.
The police knocked a third time, shortly before 7 a.m.
"Finally he opened the door, and you could tell immediately—he had the deer-in-the-headlights look: Oh my god, it really is the police," says Det. Eric Zaber, the arresting officer. "He was pacing back and forth. He couldn't sit or stand in one place. He kept mumbling to himself, over and over, 'I'm going to lose my job. I'm going to lose my kids. Going to get divorced. My life's over.' He was really wired."
In interviews with SI, the Collinsville police traced, in graphic and often disturbing detail, the hellish descent of a fallen star: from an all-night club, to a drive-through liquor store where they bought the glass tube and Brillo pad needed to make a crack pipe, to a street drug buy, to a motel crack party at which, Velia told officers, Stevens was smoking the drug "like a monster." This might have been a personal apocalypse for Stevens and stunning news in the NHL, but for the Collinsville police it was just another of the 200 or so crack arrests they make in a year. "The only thing that made this interesting," Maj. Ed Delmore told SI, "is Kevin Stevens."
In a way, Stevens's arrest might have been the best thing that happened to him that night. After a few days in a Los Angeles-area treatment center following his release from jail, he moved to a rehabilitation facility in Connecticut, where he'll remain for several more weeks, working his way back to sobriety. According to Tom Reich, one of Stevens's agents, his wife, Suzanne, in the final month of a difficult pregnancy with the couple's third child, remains unflagging in her support. (Neither Stevens nor his family could be reached for comment.) Stevens's friends, legion throughout hockey, have rallied around him, starting with Lemieux, who spoke to him in jail the night Stevens was arrested. Like Crawford, Velia and Alfred Triplett, a cabdriver who was also arrested in the case, Stevens was charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Triplett and Stevens have entered a plea of not guilty; Velia and Crawford have yet to plea. Madison County state's attorney William Haine says that Stevens, if convicted as a first-time offender, could have his record expunged provided he goes through drug rehabilitation, pays a fine (probably around $3,000) and stays clean during a probationary period.
No, Stevens's life is not over, although it easily could have been. Velia told police that when Stevens peeled $500 off a wad of bills to pay a drug dealer in East St. Louis, an Illinois town that has no right side of the tracks, she was certain they would be murdered. Buying crack is not a simple transaction like filling a gas tank or calling a broker to buy 1,000 shares of Microsoft—not there. "My first question would be, What kind of automatic weapon are you carrying?" says Haine when asked what his counsel would be to anyone flashing a big roll of cash in East St. Louis, which is infamous for its high murder rate. "Second would be, How much ammunition do you have for that weapon?"
The news of Stevens's arrest was a kick in the groin to the hockey world. When Penguins strength coach John Welday heard it in the press box that Sunday night, he hurried to the dressing room between periods to tell equipment manager Steve Latin, ordering Latin to sit before breaking the news. "Not him," Latin moaned. "Not him."
When Jim McMorrow, Stevens's former hockey coach at Silver Lake Regional High in Kingston, Mass., heard it on WEEI radio, he was certain the announcer had made some horrible mistake. When Tim Ceglarski, the assistant hockey coach at Elmira ( N.Y.) College and one of Stevens's roommates at Boston College, heard it, he put his head in his hands and wept. Crack, prostitute, jail...this made no sense. Who was this man, this other Kevin Stevens?