SI Vault
Pat Putnam
September 19, 1988
After Mike Tyson's arboreal fender bender, a story was planted alleging the heavyweight champ is mentally disturbed
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September 19, 1988

A Tale Tall As A Tree

After Mike Tyson's arboreal fender bender, a story was planted alleging the heavyweight champ is mentally disturbed

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Poor Mike Tyson, he can't hit anything without getting into trouble. This time it was a 100-year-old horse chestnut tree in upstate New York, and hardly had the bark fallen to the lawn when Tyson, the heavyweight champion of the world, was charged with being a suicidal, homicidal wife-beater with an unspecified chemical imbalance that made him violent.

The latest episode in the tumultuous life of the 22-year-old Tyson began a little after 11 a.m. on Sept. 4, a rainy, foggy Sunday morning in the Catskill Mountains. Tyson was in training for his Oct. 22 fight with Frank Bruno in London—a match that had been rescheduled from Oct. 8 after Tyson broke a bone in his hand in an Aug. 23 street scuffle with journeyman heavyweight Mitch Green. When Tyson is training at the gym above the police station in Catskill, N.Y. (pop. 4,700), he stays at the nearby home of Camille Ewald, the 83-year-old woman who is a stepmother of sorts to him. It was in Ewald's Victorian house that he was raised from the age of 14 by Ewald and the late Cus D'Amato.

According to Ewald, who is as bright as a new penny, on that Sunday morning she was in her living room drinking coffee. Members of her family were visiting from Long Island. Tyson was on a couch, reading a magazine. Earlier he had watched a horror movie on a VCR. Tyson had planned to take Ewald and her visitors to dinner at the China Palace on Columbia Turnpike in neighboring East Greenbush, but because of a heavy rainstorm they had canceled the outing. Upon finishing his magazine, Tyson stood up and said, "Camille, I don't have anything to read. I'm going to drive into town and get some magazines."

"It's raining very hard, Mike," Ewald said. "Be careful." She sighed and shook her head. Tyson is a notoriously poor driver, although he has received only one citation, a speeding ticket, and has had no serious accidents since getting his license in 1985. "He's a bad driver," says Jim Dolan, chief of police for nearby Hudson, N.Y. (pop. 8,000), where Tyson has spent a lot of time. "But that doesn't make him a bad person."

A moment after Tyson left the house, the phone rang. The caller was Shelly Finkel, a fight manager and friend of Tyson's. "Just a minute, Shelly, I'll see if I can catch him," Ewald said and stepped out onto the front porch.

Tyson had already started the car, a $71,124 BMW 750iL, a 12-cylinder beast he purchased last December as a Christmas present for Robin Givens, who would soon become his wife. He then executed a typical Tyson takeoff: He put the powerful car in gear and tromped on the accelerator. "When I went out, the wheels were spinning like mad on the wet grass," says Ewald.

Suddenly the tires grabbed and the silver BMW shot ahead 10 yards and into the chestnut tree, the right front side of the car spewing out bits of chrome and trim. As Ewald screamed and started running down off the porch, the car spun slowly and came to a halt in a bush. On a nearby tree someone had nailed up a yellow rectangular sign that read: CAUTION CHILDREN AT PLAY. When Ewald reached the car, Tyson's head was back. His eyes were closed. "Mike, wake up," Ewald yelled. She slapped him; Tyson's eyes popped open.

"Camille," he said in a shaky voice, "what happened?"

"You hit the tree," she answered.

Tyson passed out again. Later a doctor would say that Tyson was unconscious for as long as 20 minutes. Three days later the New York Daily News claimed that Tyson had been trying to commit suicide or, at best, had been trying to make the accident look like an attempted suicide to shake up his wife, whom, the story also said, he had threatened to kill before taking his own life.

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