2 Lewis friends in fight identified

Limo driver saw fight but did not witness stabbings, source says

Driver under police guard

February 09, 2000|By Peter Hermann and Del Quentin Wilber | Peter Hermann and Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- The driver of a limousine that carried Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis to posh Super Bowl parties has identified two of the player's friends as being involved in a fight that ended with two men fatally stabbed, a source familiar with the case said yesterday.

After the scuffle outside an upscale nightclub, Lewis said, "Let's get out of here," and his driver, Duane Fassett, drove away with the football star and others, according to the source.

Fassett saw the fight and helped Atlanta police identify two of the combatants, but did not see the stabbings, the source said.

Fassett, who is under police protection at his Severn home, recognized one of the men as a friend of Lewis' who had accompanied the player in the limo to Ravens home games, the source said. The other man also was a Lewis friend, the source said.

Atlanta police declined to comment on the investigation and would only confirm yesterday that their detectives have returned from Maryland, where they spent several days combing Baltimore's suburbs for evidence. They said no new charges have been filed.

More than a week after the incident, Lewis remains the only person charged in the deaths Jan. 31 of Richard Lollar, 24, and Jacinth Baker, 21, outside the Cobalt Lounge in Buckhead.

The Fulton County grand jury met for its regular Tuesday session yesterday, but did not return an indictment against Lewis, 24.

A spokesman for the district attorney's office would not say whether the grand jurors heard evidence or discussed the Lewis case. The panel next meets on Friday. A bail hearing is scheduled for Monday.

Early yesterday, homicide detectives searched Lewis' sprawling house in Worthington Valley and were seen loading two plastic containers and a computer into a van. They declined to comment.

"We have to be precise and accurate and responsible," said Officer John Quigley, a spokesman for the Atlanta police, who noted that the case is being watched closely by the news media and football fans. "We can't make mistakes."

Lewis, who is being held without bail, is charged with two murder counts. The arrest warrant, reportedly based on Fassett's account, alleges that Lewis participated in the assault "by punching, beating and stabbing" the victims.

Defense lawyers huddled privately yesterday at their Buckhead office, blocks from the scene of the killings. They did not return repeated phone calls.

The lawyers have said that Lewis acted as a peacemaker when members of his entourage got into a fight and didn't know anyone had been stabbed until hours after his limousine sped away with him and six other passengers.

Fassett has told police that Lewis was involved in the fight and threw at least one punch.

Lewis' lawyers have said their client was trying to break up the fight and that they have interviewed the limo passengers and that each exonerates their client. They have not talked with Fassett or reviewed his statement.

Fassett could not be reached for comment yesterday but hopes that police "quickly arrest the perpetrators," said his attorney, David B. Irwin. "He's scared."

Lewis' attorneys have said that members of his group were attacked -- one was hit over the head with a champagne bottle -- as they left the Cobalt Lounge after 3: 30 a.m.

The source said Fassett told police that Lewis left the club with three friends and others.

The player's lawyers said eight people, some of whom Lewis did not know, were in the group.

Fassett, the source said, saw one of the victims taunt one of Lewis' friends, who retaliated. A fight broke out, which Lewis tried to break up. The source said Lewis threw a punch at one of the men who was later stabbed.

The source said the fight continued as the combatants moved down the street, but Lewis stayed near the car. Lewis and six others jumped into the limo, which sped away as someone shot at it.

The source said the driver had no idea anyone had been stabbed until he overheard someone in the limo. Fassett drove to a nearby hotel, where he stopped to change a tire flattened by a bullet.

The passengers scattered. A man wearing a bloody shirt ran into a hotel bathroom. Lewis got into a cab and went back to his midtown hotel. From there, he went to a relative's suburban Atlanta home and then to a lawyer's house, where he was arrested.

One key discrepancy is that Fassett's employer, Tony Toskov of All Stretched Out Limousine Service, has said the driver saw the stabbing but could not identify the participants. The source, who has knowledge of the driver's statement, said yesterday that Fassett did not see the stabbings.

Lewis' lawyers have said their client knew the nicknames of some of the people involved in the stabbings and had furnished that information to police. But police have said privately that Lewis has not been forthcoming.

Deputy Police Chief C. B. Jackson declined to address that issue yesterday. "We are not frustrated at all," he said. "We are working hard to identify all the people involved. I am not going to discuss the investigation."

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