Ex-Net J. Williams charged in gun death

He surrenders in N.J. in limo driver case

February 26, 2002|By BERGEN COUNTY (N.J.) RECORD

FLEMINGTON, N.J. - Former New Jersey Nets star Jayson Williams surrendered yesterday to state police after he was charged with reckless manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a limousine driver during a party at Williams' Hunterdon County mansion.

"I was convinced that reckless conduct existed," acting Hunterdon County Prosecutor Steve Lember said.

Lember confirmed that Williams was holding a 12-gauge shotgun when it accidentally fired, fatally striking Costas "Gus" Christofi.

The 55-year-old limo driver, who was hired by Williams to drive him and some friends to a Harlem Globe- trotters game in Pennsylvania, died Feb. 14 at about 3 a.m. in Williams' bedroom, where the basketball star kept a stocked gun rack, authorities said.

Although Williams did not intend to kill Christofi, Lember said he acted recklessly with the gun. If convicted of reckless manslaughter, Williams could face five to 10 years in prison.

In his first public appearance since the shooting, Williams entered the state police barracks in Kingwood, where he was formally charged. The 6-foot-10 Williams, who was once considered one of the NBA's best rebounders before retiring in 2000 after a series of leg injuries, was freed on $250,000 bail, paid by certified check.

Williams did not comment, but his lawyer, Joseph Hayden, said the shooting was accidental.

"The death of Mr. Christofi was a tragic accident, but it was an accident," Hayden said. "We are very confident that after a full, fair and thorough exploration of all the facts, it will be clear that Mr. Williams is innocent of any criminal conduct."

Williams, a basketball commentator for NBC, is next scheduled to appear on a pre-game show on Sunday. NBC Sports spokeswoman Cameron Blanchard would not say if Williams would appear.

As a condition of bail, Williams turned over his passport and all firearms kept on his 65-acre, Alexandria Township estate, which features a skeet-shooting range.

Lember said 14 people, including Williams, Williams' brother, and Christofi, were inside the estate during the shooting.

After the Globetrotters charity game, Christofi drove them to the Mountain Chalet, a restaurant in Union Township in Hunterdon County. Williams then invited everyone, including Christofi, for a tour of his mansion, which includes an indoor and outdoor basketball court, a 16-seat movie theater, a par-3 golf hole, and go-cart racing.

Lember said Christofi, a sports fan, must have been in "seventh heaven" to have been invited. The group had been at the estate less than an hour when authorities received a 911 call from someone at the estate reporting a suicide. Authorities almost immediately classified the shooting as a homicide.

Lember said several witnesses lied to authorities to cover up Williams' involvement in the shooting.

"We are most interested in getting to the truth," Lember said. "Those witnesses should come forward and do the right thing."

Christofi's nephew, Chris Adams, said relatives were relieved that Williams, 34, surrendered.

"There was no way around it - it was his gun, his home, his tour of the mansion. He avoided this long enough," Adams told the New York Daily News. "There are too many fingers pointed at his direction. ... Now justice has to be served."

Williams has freely admitted past mistakes, describing them in a 2000 autobiography as "a lot of beers and barroom brawls and some scrapes with the law."

In 1992, he was accused of smashing a beer mug over a patron's head at a Chicago bar. Two years later, he was accused of firing a semiautomatic weapon into a Meadowlands parking lot.

He wrote in his autobiography that he almost shot New York Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet while firing a large handgun on his skeet-shooting range. And Williams faces a hearing this week on a charge that he pushed a police officer last November in a New Jersey bar.

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