Champagne, Diamonds and Gunshots in the Dark
There was a young millionaire in Denver whose white limousine came under gunfire on a snow-lined boulevard in the dark of a winter morning. When the shooting began he had about one minute to live, and he spent that minute surrounded by the tangible signs of his newfound wealth. The black leather seats held nine women in short dresses and fur-trimmed jackets, as well as four rappers from Texas whose T-shirts advertised their collective name: BILLION DOLLA SCHOLARS. But the most dazzling sight in the Hummer limousine was the young millionaire's gold chain. Dangling from it was a medallion about the size of a compact disc with a white crust of diamonds that spelled the name of his record label, RYNO ENTERTAINMENT; and his nickname, D WILL, short for Darrent Williams, starting right cornerback for the Broncos. The chain was worth about $50,000, and those who had worn it said it felt heavy around the neck. In the last 10 minutes the chain had been lost, then found, and the reasons for that brief disappearance would make the difference between life and death.
Many theories have surfaced in the four years since the shooting, many prisms through which to view the events of New Year's Eve 2006. Most have some basis in fact. You would not be wrong to blame new money, unaccustomed celebrity, old-fashioned jealousy, Napoleonic insecurity or an airborne mist of champagne. You could even surmise, as a judge did, that the bullets were probably meant for a different Bronco in a different limousine. But Darrent Williams was no mere bystander in the sequence of events that led to his death. He chose to help a friend in distress—chose to take off the heavy gold chain to do so—and that choice cost him his life. You would not be wrong to say he died from the .40-caliber bullet that tore two jugular veins and opened his right carotid artery. Nor would you be wrong to say Darrent Williams died of loyalty.
You could even call it predestination. Williams came from Carter Park, a battleground in Fort Worth, Texas, where loyalty is a means of survival. He wasn't close to his father, and his mother's fiancé was shot to death in a Burger King parking lot when Darrent was 10, but it would be too simple to call Rosalind Williams a single mother. She was one of seven children, and they all raised their own children together, side by side. Thus, when Darrent's name appeared in police reports, it usually had something to do with familial defense. At age 15 he confronted Hispanic gang members about speeding in front of the house of his grandmother, Easter Williams; they later came back and shot up the house with a high-powered rifle. When a man came to Granny's door asking for money, Darrent chased him away with a dog that bit a hole in the man's forearm. When Darrent signed with the Broncos, he bought his mother a new house and Granny a new Lincoln Town Car. When he shopped for himself he took friends along, and when he bought Air Jordans, he bought them for everyone. Williams was not the only man in the white limousine wearing a diamond chain. He'd bought smaller ones for each of the Billion Dolla Scholars.
The only man in the limousine with more money and fame than Williams was Javon Walker, a teammate on the Broncos, and one of the last things Williams heard before the gunfire was a lecture from Walker on how a rich man should guard his possessions.
"Don't hang your chain with somebody who can't cover it," he said, referring to the diamond chain that Williams had recently lost and found. Those within earshot understood what Walker meant: Don't let anyone hold the chain unless he has the cash to pay for it. Walker had played five years in the NFL, three more than Williams, and he led the Broncos in receiving yards in 2006. Walker looked across the limousine at the Billion Dolla Scholars, old friends of Williams's from Fort Worth, who were much less wealthy than their name implied. "Not to be disrespectful to y'all," he said, "but I can cover it."
A minute or two later, as the limousine rolled northwest on Speer Boulevard, a white Chevy Tahoe pulled up in the lane to its left. Bullets sprayed from the Tahoe's open window. At least 15 struck the limousine. Miraculously, only three of the 17 passengers were hit, and each was hit just once. One Scholar took a round to the buttocks, and a young woman suffered a shallow head wound that might have been fatal had she not leaned forward an instant earlier to answer her ringing cellphone. Darrent Williams got no such phone call, although for weeks thereafter his high school sweetheart regularly dialed his number just to hear the recorded sound of his voice. At the funeral their seven-year-old son asked if Daddy had his cellphone in the coffin.
The limousine veered off the road into a snow-covered patch of grass. As women screamed and men dove for cover, Javon Walker found his teammate. Walker stood 6'3" and weighed 215 pounds; he was six inches taller and at least 30 pounds heavier than Williams. He picked Williams up and held him like a baby, covering the wound with his hand, begging him not to die.
In the video of Javon Walker's first interview with Denver police, just under two hours later, it's all Walker can do to stop crying, raise his head from the desk and look at the officer.
SGT. MATT MURRAY: Javon, is there anything else you can think of that might help us to sort this out?