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Big Ben accuser slurred out tale of rape, tapes reveal

About Carl Prine
Picture Carl Prine 412-320-7826
Investigative Reporter
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Carl Prine is an investigative reporter for the Tribune-Review.

By Carl Prine

Published: Thursday, June 10, 2010

MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. -- After months of suspense, the public Wednesday heard a first-hand account from the woman who accused Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of rape.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation released the 20-year-old Georgia College & University student's audio and videotaped statements, a small portion of the 56 discs from the closed criminal investigation. Roethlisberger, 28, was never charged with a crime in the March 5 incident.

The discs contain crime scene photos, video surveillance snippets, snapshots of Roethlisberger's party arriving in this quaint Baldwin County university town, and dozens of taped interviews that include the young woman; Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Ed Joyner, who was Roethlisberger's bodyguard; and other members of his entourage.

Authorities redacted parts of the tape to hide her identity.

The highly intoxicated accuser initially told Milledgeville police that she wasn't raped, according to the case file. But in an audiotaped interview with Milledgeville Officer Jason Lopez shortly after the encounter, she claimed in a raspy, slurred voice that the quarterback raped her while she squatted on a toilet.

"He said, 'I promise it's OK,'" she said. "I said, 'Uhhhh, I don't know.' And then it just happened."

She conceded that she was drunk, but recalled that the alleged incident lasted a few minutes.

"She kept saying, 'He kept trying, he kept trying, he kept trying.' She would never say that he actually did it, until I would ask her. When she talked on her own, it was always, 'He tried to do this, he tried to do this,'" Lopez told GBI agents.

Roethlisberger mum

At the Steelers' South Side headquarters, Roethlisberger yesterday declined to speak to reporters, saying the team would coordinate all questions. The Steelers scheduled interviews with two Pittsburgh television stations.

Ryan Tollner, Roethlisberger's agent, said the quarterback doesn't want to talk specifically about the allegations -- in part because he faces a lawsuit in Nevada, filed in July by a woman who claims Roethlisberger raped her, and out of respect for National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell, who disciplined Roethlisberger.

"There's a period here where it's important for Ben to get his life back on track," Tollner said. "He has been reflecting on what happened in Georgia. He's taken the time to absorb it, and he's on a course to get on with his life. It's not a 'something to hide' type of deal here."

The NFL's conditional suspension is expected to keep Roethlisberger on the bench for at least four games. He's participating in team practices and cleared medical tests to scrutinize underlying causes for his conduct.

District Attorney Fred Bright decided April 12 not to charge Roethlisberger because he could not prove rape happened and the woman did not want to prosecute.

The Tribune-Review doesn't name the alleged victims of sexual abuse.

Rendezvous

In a videotaped statement about 12 hours after the encounter, the woman said Roethlisberger "seemed nice, at first" when she and sorority sisters, fresh from a birthday celebration, met him and his friends at the Velvet Elvis bar. But she told detectives she thought it was odd he would visit a college town at his age.

The women met up with him later at a restaurant, The Brick, where he and Steelers offensive lineman Willie Colon talked to them at the bar.

"It was casual, not sexual at all," she said. But a provocative, "silly" name tag she put on for the birthday party that suggested her willingness to engage in sexual intercourse piqued his interest, she said.

"He, like, asked me about that. 'Oh, I'm not down to (expletive). I'm down to (expletive) girls.' Something very crude."

Colon told the detectives the name tag caught his attention, too, prompting him to ask the accuser: "Oh, really?"

Amateur footage shot by California sports marketing guru Nima Zarrabi showed Colon making small talk with women at the bar. Other women gyrated nearby, while off-duty Coraopolis Patrolman Anthony Barravecchio and Joyner sat at a nearby table.

Roethlisberger, answering to "No. 7," after his jersey number, high-fived women. Around him, women drank from plastic glasses. He asked them: "Tell me what that tastes like," but he didn't appear to be drinking.

Neither Roethlisberger nor Barravecchio gave police taped interviews.

Past midnight at the Capital City dance club, the accuser told police the women were ushered into a back room where Roethlisberger provided them shots of liquor. She said a bodyguard, whom police later identified as Barravecchio, led her "to this back door in this hallway," where she sat on a stool.

"I don't even know why I went," she said. "It was stupid."

Within seconds, she estimated, Roethlisberger approached with his penis out of his trousers. She said she bolted through the nearest doorway, into a dark restroom. She said she told him: "No, we really don't need to do this" as he grabbed her.

"The whole time I was just scared. It's, like, this big man and I'm, like, trying to get away. And he shut the door behind me. And it was just weird."

Troubling issues

The videos reveal an investigation beset by problems.

The first supervisor on the scene, Milledgeville Police Sgt. Jerry Blash, told investigators that three women, including the accuser, flagged him down on the street near a pub. Blash -- fired for describing the accuser as crazy and unbelievable -- said Roethlisberger "didn't want to make too many statements" but remembered her as "the girl who fell on her head" and her friends as disgruntled because he wouldn't let them stay in the Capital City's VIP room.

Blash said the accuser was so drunk that she was "barely able to stand." He said she told him Roethlisberger didn't force himself on her and seemed ready to drop the matter.

"She wasn't making sense," said Blash. "She was all over the place, to me."

Blash said Barravecchio told him he didn't remember the accuser and never led anyone to a restroom. He claimed Barravecchio angrily said: "These whores in town, they see these guys with money."

"I remember him saying that," said Blash. "But I said, 'Well, we still have to do what we have to do.' "'

Coraopolis council is reviewing Barravecchio's actions. His attorney, Michael Santicola, has said Barravecchio did nothing improper.

"Other people were standing there, and they didn't hear Tony say that," Santicola said. "We've said it before and we'll reiterate it now: That was something the Milledgeville officer said, not Tony."

Georgia football legend Hines Ward, Roethlisberger's go-to receiver, wasn't in Milledgeville that night and was surprised that tapes of the interviews would be released.

"It's not going to change the fact that he's still suspended," Ward said. "To be honest, it really doesn't matter. What matters to me is not having him out there for the first four to six games. It's disappointing ... but there's nothing I can do about it -- just go out there and work hard."

Staff writer Scott Brown contributed.

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