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Petrino on leave, admits to crash lie

Posted: April 6, 2012 at 4:23 a.m.

Jessica Dorrell and University of Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino appear together in this Feb. 23 file photograph at Searcy High School during a meeting of the White County Razorback Club.

— University of Arkansas football Coach Bobby Petrino was placed on paid administrative leave Thursday night after the Arkansas State Police released an accident report contradicting his earlier public statements that he was alone when he crashed his motorcycle Sunday evening.

According to the report, Jessica Dorrell, 25, a former UA volleyball player who was hired March 28 as the football program’s student athlete development coordinator, was on the motorcycle with Petrino when it crashed off Arkansas 16 in rural Madison County.

Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long addresses Bobby Petrino's suspension as Razorbacks head football coach on Thursday night in Fayetteville.

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Jeff Long - Bobby Petrino Suspension

Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino talks about a motorcycle accident that left him with four broken ribs, a cracked vertebrae and a neck sprain.

Video

Bobby Petrino - Motorcycle Accident

Petrino statement

“The state police report today provides an accurate description of my accident, which includes details that had not publically come to light prior to the report being issued. I regret that I have not publically acknowledged a passenger on the vehicle. I have been in constant pain, medicated and the circumstances involving the wreck have come out in bits and pieces. That said I certainly had a concern about Jessica Dorrell’s name being revealed. In my press conference, I referred to her simply as ‘a lady’. My concern was to protect my family and a previous inappropriate relationship from becoming public. In hindsight, I showed a serious mistake in judgment when I chose not to be more specific about those details. Today, I’ve acknowledged this previous inappropriate relationship with my family and those within the athletic department administration.

I apologize to my wife, Becky, and our four children, Chancellor (David) Gearhart, Jeff Long, the Board of Trustees, University administration, my coaching staff, student-athletes and the entire state of Arkansas. I have been humbled by the outpouring of concern and get-well wishes. I apologize to the Razorback Nation for the attention my actions have brought to the University of Arkansas and our program. I will fully cooperate with the University throughout this process and my hope is to repair my relationships with my family, my Athletic Director, the Razorback Nation and remain the head coach of the Razorbacks.”

Petrino admitted in a statement Thursday evening that the state police report was accurate and that he had had a “previous inappropriate relationship” that he was trying to keep out of the public.

In the statement, Petrino apologized to university officials, players, his wife and “the entire state of Arkansas.”

In a 10 p.m. news conference at the Broyles Athletic Center on campus, Athletic Director Jeff Long announced that he had placed Petrino on leave and would conduct a“thorough, expeditious review” before making any further decisions about the coach’s job status. Long said assistant head coach Taver Johnson, who was hired in January, would take over administrative responsibilities for the Razorbacks football program during Petrino’s absence.

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A woman identified as Jessica Dorrell on the University of Arkansas athletics website. (Credit: University of Arkansas)

Long said Petrino called him at 3:12 p.m. on Thursday to tell him that Dorrell had been a passenger on his motorcycle when it crashed.

Petrino’s UA contract says he can be dismissed with cause for conduct “which is clearly contrary to the character and responsibilities of a person occupying the position of Head Football Coach or which negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the University or UAF’s athletics programs in any way.”

The university could also discipline Petrino for such conduct through suspension without pay, reduction of salary or incentives, or loss of “special allowances for unusual expenses.”

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Bobby Petrino's Harley-Davidson motorcycle following an accident on Sunday. (By: Bob Kramer, Special to NWAonline)

Long would not speculate about any potential punishment for Petrino, who has a 34-17 record in four seasons and has led the Razorbacks to 21 victories in the past two seasons, the most at UA since 1964-65.

Long was asked if his relationship with Petrino is now strained.

“Well, certainly when someone isn’t as forthcoming as they should have been, certainly it puts the relationship in a different place,” Long said. “But we can overcome that. That’s something we’ve got to work through.”

The day after the accident, UA had released a statement on behalf of Petrino saying that no one but Petrino was involved in it.

Petrino said the same thing to TV reporters at a news conference Tuesday. When asked if he was alone in the crash, Petrino replied, “Yeah,” and gave no further comment.

Petrino said in Thursday’s statement that he has been in constant pain and on medication since his accident and that “the circumstances involving the wreck have come out in bits and pieces.”

“That said, I certainly had a concern about Jessica Dorrell’s name being revealed,” Petrino said. He said his concern was “to protect my family and a previous inappropriate relationship from becoming public.”

“In hindsight, I showed a serious mistake in judgment when I chose not to be more specific” about the details of the wreck, he said.

In the accident, Petrino, 51, suffered a cracked C2 vertebrae, four broken ribs and severe bruising around his face. The accident also caused an estimated $2,000 in damage to his Harley-Davidson Road King.

Dorrell was listed in the accident report as having no injury. She didn’t return calls seeking comment Thursday.

The report says Petrino was headed west on Arkansas 16, with Dorrell on the back of his motorcycle, when he drove off the right side of the road at 6:32 p.m. for an “unknown reason” as he was applying the brakes.

In a written statement to Trooper Josh Arnold, he said, “Because of sun and wind I could not maneuver the turn, drove off the road. Tryed to lay the bike down and the next thing I know I was lying in a wood pile!!”

Dorrell told troopers that she didn’t know what caused the accident.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Petrino talked about the moments after the accident, in which he fell into a pile of limbs in a roadside ditch: “When I came out of the ditch there was a lady there that had flagged down the car.”

“The guy that was in the passenger seat said, ‘Get in, we’ll just take you right to the hospital.’ So I got in the car, and we just headed toward Fayetteville.”

In his statement Thursday, Petrino identified the “lady” as Dorrell.

The accident report identifies the motorists who stopped to help Petrino and Dorrell as Benjamin Williams and Jody Diane Stewart of Ozark, who were in a car with Williams’ 12-year-old son.

Stewart and Williams said Thursday that they didn’t see the accident. They said they saw a man in the ditch trying to get out and stopped the car. There was another car already pulled over, Stewart said.

Williams said Petrino was “in pretty bad shape” and was covered in blood.

Stewart said, “He was disoriented. He was in a lot of pain.”

Williams said he helped the man out of the ditch.

“I told my son to get some water and doctored him up,” Williams said. “We got socks and a dirty T-shirt and doctored him up. It was bad.”

Stewart said they put Petrino in the car and drove him from the accident scene. They said they didn’t take a woman from the scene.

Petrino told reporters Tuesday that his first phone call after the wreck was to team surgeon Chris Arnold.

State police Capt. Lance King, who coordinates security details for the Razorbacks team, also received a call Sunday about the wreck on his cell phone while he was grocery shopping about a mile and a half away, state police spokesman Bill Sadler said.

According to the accident report, Williams and Stewart drove Petrino and Dorrell to East Huntsville Road and Crossover Road in Fayetteville, where they met King. When told Thursday that some of their account of the accident aftermath conflicted with the police report, Williams and Stewart looked briefly at the report, then declined to be interviewed further.

Dorrell “departed in her personal vehicle,” the report said. King drove Petrino to the hospital in his state-owned, unmarked car, Sadler said.

Dorrell, a letterman for the UA volleyball team from 2004-07, graduated in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in finance and marketing. A team captain during her tenure, Dorrell made the SEC All-Freshman team in 2004 and was a second-team All-SEC pick later in her career.

Petrino hired Dorrell on March 28 from her position at the Razorback Foundation, to replace Dann Kabala. Dorrell had been serving as assistant director of women’s athletics at the foundation and was described on the UA website as the first female fundraiser there.

Dorrell’s annual salary in her new position is $55,735, according to UA spokesman Steve Voorhies. Her salary at the foundation, a private entity, could not be determined Thursday.

She is engaged to marry Josh Morgan, who is the director of operations for the UA swimming and diving team, according to a website that said it was created by the couple.

On Thursday evening, the website - morgan-dorrell.ourwedding.com - was no longer operable and shows a message: “this site does not contain any usable pages.”

Petrino, who earns a salary of $2.985 million a year, joined UA in December 2007, after less than a season as coach of the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons.

He has led the Razorbacks to three Bowl Game appearances, including a Cotton Bowl victory over Kansas State, and a No. 5 national ranking in 2011 when the Razorbacks went 11-2.

Wearing a neck brace as he spoke at the Tuesday news conference, Petrino said he had spent much of Sunday before the wreck at Beaver Lake with his wife, Becky, and debated wearing a helmet before going on one of his motorcycle rides.

“The ironic thing is that we are sitting there in the kitchen, Becky and I, and I have two helmets out. And I say, ‘This one is really going to be heavy and hot, and this one makes me look like a conehead. I think I’ll just go with the hat.’”

The accident report lists Dorrell’s only safety equipment at the time of the crash as “eye protection.”

Petrino was not cited in the crash, and he told reporters that he had not been drinking. State police did not test Petrino’s blood-alcohol content, which Sadler said is not unusual for an accident that does not involve a death.

In such accidents, troopers don’t request blood tests unless they have reason to suspect alcohol was involved, Sadler said.

The Arkansas State Police did not mention the passenger in statements to reporters before Thursday afternoon, four days after the accident, when it notified reporters that the accident report had been completed and could be picked up at a troop office for a $10 fee.

Sadler said investigators didn’t know about the passenger until Tuesday, after a trooper spoke to Petrino following his release from the hospital.

By that time, Sadler said, he had already told reporters that he would not be releasing any more information until the accident report was finished.

“We wanted to make certain that we had all the information and that all the information was accurate,” Sadler said.

King didn’t know about the passenger when he drove Petrino to the hospital, and Petrino didn’t mention her to him, Sadler said.

“Capt. King was not conducting an interview at that time,” Sadler said. “He had one specific mission and that was to deliver the coach to the medical facility that he requested to be taken to.”

State police provide preliminary reports on fatal accidents on the agency’s website and occasionally issue news releases about other crashes before full accident reports are completed.

Sadler said full accident reports often take two or three days to complete and that there is no deadline for when one must be completed.

Sadler said the $10 fee for a copy of the report is required under Arkansas Code 27-53-510. He acknowledged that state police have occasionally provided accident reports to news outlets for free in the past, but he said the agency has been making an effort for the past several months to follow the law more consistently.

“We have really been trying to tighten up the ship,” Sadler said. The law, he noted, “states that a $10 fee shall be collected.”

“It doesn’t say ‘may be.’ It doesn’t say ‘can be,’” Sadler said.

Gov. Mike Beebe didn’t have any problem with the state police charging the fee, his spokesman, Matt DeCample said.

“It’s hard for him to have a problem with them following the statute that’s on the books,” DeCample said.

Information for this article was contributed by Evie Blad, Lisa Hammersly, Bob Holt and Troy Schulte of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Petrino’s statement

The following is a statement from University of Arkansas football Coach Bobby Petrino:

“The state police report today provides an accurate description of my accident, which includes details that had not publically come to light prior to the report being issued. I regret that I have not publically acknowledged a passenger on the vehicle. I have been in constant pain, medicated and the circumstances involving the wreck have come out in bits and pieces. That said I certainly had a concern about Jessica Dorrell’s name being revealed. In my press conference, I referred to her simply as ‘a lady’. My concern was to protect my family and a previous inappropriate relationship from becoming public. In hindsight, I showed a serious mistake in judgment when I chose not to be more specific about those details.Today, I’ve acknowledged this previous inappropriate relationship with my family and those within the athletic department administration.

“I apologize to my wife, Becky, and our four children, Chancellor (David) Gearhart, Jeff Long, the Board of Trustees, University administration, my coaching staff, student-athletes and the entire state of Arkansas. I have been humbled by the outpouring of concern and get-well wishes. I apologize to the Razorback Nation for the attention my actions have brought to the University of Arkansas and our program. I will fully cooperate with the University throughout this process and my hope is to repair my relationships with my family, my Athletic Director, the Razorback Nation and remain the head coach of the Razorbacks.”

Front Section, Pages 1 on 04/06/2012

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