Man had seizures, his mother says Wrestler died after O.C. police tried subduing him

August 25, 1996|By Brenda J. Buote and Dail Willis | Brenda J. Buote and Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

The mother of Neil Caricofe, the professional wrestling champion who died after Ocean City police officers tried to subdue him with batons and pepper spray, said her son was prone to seizures and might have been having one when he was walking naked through the Fenwick Inn early Friday.

The Worcester County Bureau of Investigation, a group composed of officers of the Maryland State Police, the Worcester County Sheriff's Office and other Worcester municipal police forces excluding Ocean City, is investigating Caricofe's death at the request of Ocean City Police Chief David C. Massey, said Jay Hancock, a spokesman for Ocean City police.

Pat Caricofe, 54, of Hagerstown, said, "Neil often suffered seizures at night that would render him incapable of communicating with others."

Her son, who lived in Hagerstown and wrestled under the name of Neil "The Power" Superior, helped run his own wrestling school there under the name Neil Superior's Pro Wrestling School. He worked as a correctional officer at Central Laundry in Sykesville, a Maryland correctional pre-release center.

Ms. Caricofe said her son's seizures began "a couple of years ago, and I think that's what happened the other night."

"It wasn't unusual for me to find him in the kitchen in the middle of the night, roaming around in his underwear with his eyes closed. He always slept in his underwear, or in the nude," she said.

Whenever Neil was on his nocturnal wanderings, she would simply turn him around and lead him back to bed, his mother said.

"I think the officers were probably summer cops who overreacted because of his size," Ms. Caricofe said. Her son, 33, was 6-foot-4 and weighed 267 pounds.

Hancock said there were some seasonal officers at the scene, but that at least three full-time police officers -- including a female police sergeant -- were present.

He did not know the exact number of officers who responded.

Ocean City hires seasonal officers -- often college students with no previous experience in law enforcement -- every year to help the popular resort cope with the influx of summer tourists, Hancock said.

No disciplinary action has been taken against any of the officers involved in the incident.

"As of [Friday], they were still on duty," Hancock said yesterday.

The incident began about 4: 30 a.m. Friday, when Ocean City police arrived at the quiet, 201-room Fenwick Inn in response to a complaint about a naked man causing a disturbance on the seventh floor of the hotel, Hancock said.

Greg E. Fleming, general manager of the inn, said, "There was a complaint of a guest being disorderly. We called the police, and it was out of our hands from there."

When officers arrived, "they tried to talk to him. I don't know what they said exactly, but they asked him to cooperate with them. They got nowhere with that," Hancock said.

Hancock said Caricofe did not attack the officers, but that he resisted efforts to subdue him.

Hancock added that he did not know whether Caricofe spoke to the officers.

Pat Caricofe said her son, who went to the inn to spend the weekend with friends, never talked while having one of his seizures, which the family has been told by doctors are caused by a neurological problem that might have resulted from a wrestling injury.

Hancock said, "They were trying to take him into custody and he resisted it. They tried to put the cuffs on him and he broke free. He was flailing his arms. They couldn't get close to him."

When handcuffs didn't work, officers also used pepper spray and batons, he said. The officers struck Caricofe on the legs with batons -- as they are trained to do, he said.

But they could not subdue Caricofe, Hancock said.

Caricofe left officers on the seventh floor and walked to the hotel's parking lot, where he was surrounded by a group of officers and collapsed, Hancock said.

He died a short time later at Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin.

An autopsy was performed Friday, according to the state medical examiner's office, but results won't be available for a week, an official there said yesterday.

Neil Caricofe's family and friends questioned the Ocean City police officers' actions.

"I can't believe that he was aggressive toward the police officers. That would be totally out of character," said Dwayne Caricofe, 30, Neil's brother. "After all, he was an officer himself."

In addition to his job as a correctional officer, Neil Caricofe was also a member of the U.S. Army Reserves, Dwayne Caricofe said.

Neil started wrestling in high school and won a scholarship to American University in Washington, where he took classes for about two years.

After leaving the university, he began training with Afa, one of a group of wrestlers known as "The Wild Samoans."

Afa also trained wrestling notables such as Hulk Hogan and Paul Orndorff, said Shane Heimberger, who, for the past year, has helped run the Neil Superior school in Hagerstown.

"Neil was the National Wrestling League champion," Heimberger said. "He won the title in March."

The National Wrestling League has 30 to 40 members and is based in Hagerstown.

It is not affiliated with the World Wrestling Federation, although it often works with "big celebrities like Hulk Hogan," said Richard Caricofe, Neil's father and a wrestling promoter.

Pub Date: 8/25/96

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