The Athens-Clarke County Police Department on Wednesday secured arrest warrants for University of Georgia football star Jalen Carter for reckless driving and street racing. The warrants stem from the Jan. 15 car crash that killed teammate Devin Willock and football staffer Chandler LeCroy only hours after UGA celebrated its national championship victory over TCU.
Carter, who had been projected to be among the top few players selected in the 2023 NFL draft, was at the NFL combine in Indianapolis when the police announced the warrants. He canceled a planned news conference and reportedly left Indianapolis.
“It is my intention to return to Athens to answer the misdemeanor charges against me and to make certain that the complete and accurate truth is presented,” Carter wrote in a Tweet.
According to the police, Carter drove a 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk while LeCroy drove a 2021 Ford Expedition. They allegedly operated their vehicles “in a manner consistent with racing shortly after leaving the downtown Athens area” at about 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 15, a police report said, with both cars switching between lanes and driving in opposite lanes of travel. Available evidence, the police assert, indicate the two “drove at high rates of speed, in an apparent attempt to outdistance each other” and that they “overtook other motorists.” LeCroy’s blood alcohol concentration was .197, more than twice the legal limit of .08, and she reportedly drove her car at 104 miles per hour.
Carter faces two misdemeanor charges, each carrying a potential fine of $1,000 and a maximum one-year jail sentence. He will have an opportunity to defend himself and contest the allegations.
Carter also could attempt to negotiate a plea deal that would minimize, and conceivably avoid, a jail sentence. He does not have a known criminal record, and first-time offenders normally receive lighter punishments than repeat offenders.
But Tom Mars, an attorney who practices in Georgia and is former director of the Arkansas State Police, told Sportico that street racing in Georgia has grown as a law-enforcement concern.
“The majority of metro jurisdictions in Georgia,” Mars told Sportico, “have cracked down on street racing in recent years, and many Georgia prosecutors have pledged to aggressively seek all available penalties to deter this highly dangerous conduct.”
Mars—whose clients have included Justin Fields, Houston Nutt, Bret Bielema and other prominent sports figures—added, “Judges in Georgia have broad discretion when it comes to sentencing. But whenever there’s a conviction for street racing that resulted in multiple fatalities, it seems unlikely that any defendant—even a top NFL draft prospect—could avoid spending at least some time in jail.”
In addition to criminal ramifications, Carter could face civil litigation if the families of LeCroy or Willock, who was a passenger in the car driven by LeCroy, contend that Carter is mostly responsible for their deaths. Although a wrongful death lawsuit would not carry the risk of jail, it could require Carter to answer sensitive questions under oath and potentially go to trial and, if he loses, be ordered to pay sizable damages. Georgia is a “modified comparative negligence state,” meaning that even if Carter is only partially to blame but is deemed more blameworthy than others, he could be required to pay.
Carter’s draft status and endorsement potential is also at issue.
“NFL teams will have questions regarding this matter with Mr. Carter that they will address in their meetings with him during the draft process,” said Terence High, an NFL agent and criminal defense attorney who practices in Mississippi. At the same time, High cautioned there are “a lot facts” about a “serious matter involving tragic deaths … that the public is not privy to at this time” and that the accompanying impact “may not be known until draft night.”
NFL agent Sean Stellato, who runs Stellato Sports near Boston, emphasized in a phone interview that it is too early to make any conclusions and that the legal process needs to play out. At the same time, Stellato stressed that NFL teams assess a player’s off-field conduct in addition to his reputation on the field and in the locker room.
Stellato added that current and prospective endorsement sponsors are also likely closely monitoring the situation. “A player’s ability to secure endorsement deals,” Stellato explained, “is tied not only to the player’s talent and brand, but also how potential corporate sponsors evaluate their character.”
Falling in the draft would carry sizable financial ramifications for Carter. Under the NFL’s rookie wage scale, a hypothetical drop from being selected first to eighth would mean a reduction in total contract value from $41 million to $23.4 million, per Spotrac figures. If he fell to 14, he’d project to earn $17.6 million.
One NFL agent who asked not to be named told Sportico the NFL could be inclined to suspend Carter before he plays in light of “the personal conduct policy, and the Henry Ruggs incident in Las Vegas.” During his second NFL season, Ruggs, then a Raiders wide receiver, was the driver in a high-speed crash that killed a woman. He currently awaits trial for DUI resulting in death and reckless driving.
One difference with Carter is that he is not an NFL player yet; he is part of an “in-between” class of workers composed of former college players who are not yet in the league. Carter, his eventual NFL team or the NFLPA could argue that he should not be punished by the league for conduct that occurred before he’s on a roster.
But the NFL has a track record of punishing players for pre-draft conduct. In 2011, the league suspended former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor before his NFL career for “undermining the integrity of our draft eligible rules.” The NCAA had suspended Pryor for selling championship rings and receiving free tattoos.