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Witnesses say priest gave Gaines, friends alcohol

| Saturday, July 12, 2003, 12:00 p.m.

The Rev. Henry R. Krawczyk provided the alcohol that University of Pittsburgh football player Billy Gaines and several teammates drank the night Gaines fell to his death through a Homestead church ceiling, witnesses have told police investigators.

The students, all of whom are under the legal drinking age of 21, told detectives they had been drinking at the church during an evening cookout June 17, "and such liquor was supplied by Father Henry Krawczyk," according to an Allegheny County police affidavit filed to request a search warrant at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Homestead.

The affidavit is the first evidence police have released that names Krawczyk as the provider of the alcohol.

Gaines' friends also told police the Catholic priest had "supplied the victim and other Pitt students under the age of 21 with alcohol several times prior to the incident," according to the affidavit.

Krawczyk, 50, who resigned as St. Maximilian pastor three weeks after Gaines' June 18 death, also showed the Playboy Channel on a television at the parish during one previous party.

One student, David Abdul, told police pornographic material appeared at the end of a videotape he had been watching either at the rectory or former convent, according to interviews quoted in the affidavit. The convent closed in 1988 and has since been used to provide temporary housing to those in need.

A woman answering Abdul's cell phone yesterday said he was not available, and she would not take a message.

County police Superintendent Ken Fulton on Friday said "charges will be brought against someone," but he declined to say whether Krawczyk will be charged.

The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, declined to comment.

"It is only probable cause at this point, so we should wait until the investigation is concluded," Lengwin said.

Krawczyk is staying at a diocesan facility, said Lengwin, who declined to identify it. Krawczyk's lawyer, David B. Cercone, was not available for comment.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., who is out of town, previously said his office is awaiting more information from the police investigation before deciding what -- if any -- charges to file and against whom.

First Assistant District Attorney Edward Borkowski declined to comment on the next steps in the investigation. "The search warrant was executed, and the search warrant speaks for itself," he said.

He said the investigation is continuing and that the district attorney's office would have no further comment.

Fulton said Zappala's office has given his detectives several lists of "tasks" to complete before a decision can be made. Fulton declined to discuss the work, but said the search warrant served at the parish Thursday night was on the list.

Fulton said police seized a computer and disks, as well as VCR tapes from the rectory. The affidavit states that police want to examine records on the computer and tapes "for evidence reflecting any alcohol consumption and/or pornographic material."

The computer files and tapes will be analyzed next week, Fulton said.

Gaines, a wide receiver from Ijamsville, Md., died of head and spinal injuries about 20 hours after he crashed through the ceiling of the parish's St. Anne Church onto wooden pews below. Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht ruled the death an accident. He said Gaines' blood alcohol content was 0.16 percent. The state's legal limit for driving is 0.10.

Gaines and his roommate, Abdul, 19, a kicker on the Pitt football team, had been staying at Krawczyk's parish following a fire at their apartment, police said. They and three teammates -- identified in the affidavit as Steve Buches, John Simonitis and Neal Tracey -- had a cookout with Krawczyk at the church starting late June 17 that turned into a drinking party, police said.

Police did not state when the party started.

About 2:30 a.m. June 18, Abdul and Gaines climbed into a dark crawl space above the church ceiling. Gaines fell through after stepping off a wooden plank, police said.

Those at the party told police that the five Pitt players had been drinking and that Krawczyk supplied the liquor, the affidavit states. Other friends of Gaines -- whom police did not identify -- told investigators that Krawczyk had supplied booze at previous parties at the parish.

Abdul told police he once saw porn at the end of a tape he had watched there, the affidavit states.

The diocese previously said that Krawczyk was reprimanded in 1986 for providing alcohol and marijuana to minors and for making a sexual advance on an 18-year-old man. In 1992, the diocese reprimanded Krawczyk for giving beer to a minor.

Krawczyk wasn't charged by police in either incident.

Gaines' parents have changed their phone number in Maryland and could not be reached for comment. John Simonitis, 18, did not return a message left with his mother in Luzerne County.

The other teammates could not be reached.

Staff writer Glenn May contributed to this story.

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