Associates, teammates of Lewis in disbelief

Ravens linebacker befriended tough crowd, they say

February 02, 2000|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Teammates and two business associates of Ray Lewis said yesterday they doubt the Ravens linebacker could have committed the murders he has been charged with and linked Lewis' recent troubles to his acquiring entourages that included "bodyguards."

Lewis, 24, was charged in the stabbing deaths of two men outside an Atlanta nightclub early Monday morning after a night of Super Bowl parties. In arresting Lewis, Atlanta police said he was suspected of being one of several men who fled the scene of the killings in a black limousine.

According to several people close to Lewis, the fourth-year linebacker had started surrounding himself with three, four and sometimes five people at social functions. Several members of the Ravens front office became concerned and planned to meet with Lewis after he returned from the Pro Bowl game in which he had been expected to play Sunday.

"I don't know what the people around him might have been doing, but ... knowing Ray like I do, this is not something I can see him being involved in," said Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary. "I believe he got caught off guard. He has got to be innocent."

"Ray hangs with a tough crowd," said a sports agent who has known Lewis for several years but did not want to be identified. "He was reared in a tough area [in Lakeland, Fla.] and apparently it has stayed with him in Baltimore. The tough crowd has caused him to be involved in two incidents in the last month and a half."

Besides the altercation in Atlanta, he was referring to a Nov. 30 incident in a Baltimore County bar in which assault charges were filed against Lewis by a woman.

Another business associate, who is in the sports/entertainment field, said he spent Thursday night with Lewis at the Cobalt Lounge in Atlanta, where the killings occurred.

According to the associate, Lewis was also accompanied by three men. He did not know if those were the same people who were with Lewis Monday morning.

"When Ray first came to Baltimore, you couldn't get him to hang out," said the associate. "Then others started hanging around him. They weren't just relatives. The guys in Atlanta were drifters Thursday night. I've seen them before at Super Bowls, Pro Bowls, any events where there are football players. They dress well, act well and hang around players so they can get free drinks, limo rides and free hotel rooms.

`They prey on players'

"Their main job is to befriend players," he said. "They prey on players, who really don't know anything about them. Ray is a trusting guy, naive at times. He is still young. He may have gotten into something he didn't know anything about. Some of those groupie types are hard-core criminals."

When asked if Lewis might be afraid of retaliation if he talked to the authorities, the associate replied: "In a situation like this, anything could happen."

Teammates also noticed that Lewis had started to surround himself with more people but declined to discuss it yesterday. They found it hard to believe that the player who had led them in tackles the past four seasons had been arrested.

"There is no way Ray Lewis could have committed a crime like this," said Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa.

"I never thought Ray would have gotten into stuff like this, not in a million years," said Bennie Thompson, the veteran safety and special teams player.

Several years ago, Thompson was a primary suspect of New Orleans police in the death of his former wife and young son. Thompson was found innocent and later provided testimony against two killers who were convicted almost a year and a half ago.

"I know him as well as anybody on the team. I know what he was thinking about Monday night," said Thompson.

`I've been there'

"He was thinking about where he was going to be spending the rest of his life and if he was going to be in jail. He was thinking about his family, how they were going to be supported and if he was ever going to play this game again.

"I've been there," said Thompson. "I've made myself available to Ray even if he just wants someone to talk to. There is no way he could have done this."

Ravens veteran quarterback Scott Mitchell said he was stunned by the charges against Lewis, but Lewis should have never put himself into this situation.

"In my mind, Ray is the best middle linebacker in pro football. I have seen him do some amazing things week in and week out. To be in his position, it's got to be hard. But why would you compromise all that? Why are you going to a place to be tempted like this?"

"When you go to some of these places, you know some of these people get that liquid courage on," Mitchell said. "That's when a lot of crazy stuff starts happening."

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