OWINGS MILLS – A night of partying at a glitzy Miami Beach nightclub followed by an ill-fated decision to drive irrevocably changed the life of Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth.
Driving his Bentley early in the morning on a causeway while under the influence of alcohol last year, Stallworth struck and killed construction worker Mario Reyes as he was running across the street to catch a bus.
Stallworth immediately called for help. Nothing could be done, though, to save a family man on his way home from work.
Ultimately, Stallworth pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter and served 24 days out of a 30-day sentence. He was also suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for all of last season before being reinstated in February.
Breaking his silence on the tragedy, a contrite Stallworth discussed the incident Thursday during an introductory press conference at the Ravens’ training complex.
"Now that I’m back playing, it’s not in the back of my mind," said Stallworth, speaking in a quiet, remorseful tone. "It’s something I deal with everyday, waking up in the morning and going to sleep at night. It’s a tough situation for everyone involved, but my main thing is I’ve got a great support group of family and close friends and my faith in God has really helped me out as far as being able to be at peace for myself and being in a serene state of mind. .. If I could go back and take that night over, I would.”
Stallworth has spent several weeks working out and getting to know his new teammates and coaches.
It was general manager Ozzie Newsome’s idea to not have Stallworth speak with reporters immediately when he was signed six weeks ago so he could get acclimated to his new team.
Signed by the Ravens to a one-year, $900,000 contract on Feb. 16 that includes an additional $300,000 worth of incentives, a candid Stallworth said he’s intent on doing everything possible to account for his mistake.
He’s searching for redemption.
Stallworth reached a confidential settlement with Reyes’ family that’s worth at least $3 million.
He said he doesn’t speak directly with the Reyes family for legal reasons, but is able to have contact with them through his lawyers.
Stallworth has apologized profusely for the episode. Meanwhile, the family hasn’t said anything publicly other than to express their desire to move on through a spokesman.
“My main focus was to make sure that the Reyes family knew that I was very apologetic about what happened,” Stallworth said. “I just wanted to let them know that if I could go back and take that night over, I would.”
Stallworth registered a blood-alcohol level of .126 after the crash, well above the .08 limit in Florida.
According to a police report, Stallworth, whose speed was estimated 50 mph in a 40 mph zone, said he flashed his lights to try alert Reyes. Reyes wasn’t in a crosswalk at the time.
Under contract with the Cleveland Browns with a seven-year, $35 million deal at this time last year, Stallworth had received a $4.5 million roster bonus from the team the night before the accident.
Now, he remains on house arrest for the next two years. However, the legal restrictions of his sentence allow him to fulfill all of his requirements of working for the Ravens.
And with his driver’s license revoked for at least four more years before he can apply for reinstatement, Stallworth has arranged for transportation to and from team headquarters.
Stallworth, 29, was assigned a decade of probation and 1,000 hours of community service.
At this point, he just wants a chance to rebuild his reputation and be known for more than that fateful night.
“One instance doesn’t define a person,” Stallworth said. “It’s a situation where I could have used better judgment and I didn’t. And the end result was what it was. At the end of the day, once people get to know me, they’ll know I’m not the kind of person that is perceived from the outcome of my case.
“That accident allows me to understand the severity of making one bad decision and how it can snowball into a whole terrible incident. I’ve become a better decision-maker, even though before this accident I wasn’t a bad person at all. I haven’t changed much as a person. I’m more aware of the decisions that I make.”
Stallworth is aware that some people won’t forgive him, but he’s determined to change how he’s perceived.
"I know the Lord won’t put anything on my shoulders that I can’t bear," Stallworth said.
The Ravens decided to sign Stallworth following a strong workout where he turned in a blistering 4.40 40-yard dash on a slow surface. He had also worked out for the Detroit Lions, but preferred the Ravens.
“Once Baltimore called, I was really excited,” Stallworth said. “I really didn’t care who else called.”
Their comfort level with him was based on his sincere remorse and his background with the coaching staff.
As a rookie first-round pick with the New Orleans Saints, Stallworth played for Ravens wide receivers coach Jim Hostler. And he played for the Eagles when coach John Harbaugh was the Eagles special-teams coach.
"He is a good person, he’s got a good heart," Harbaugh said during the NFL owners meetings. "Obviously, he’s made mistakes. I don’t think there’s anyone more determined to make it right than Donte’. When you’re around a guy for a whole year, you get to see what kind of person they are. I had a good impression beforehand. Then, he came in and talked to us, what he said and how he said it and what he’s determined to do. ..
“In his mind, he wants to turn it around. He made a mistake. But he’s also probably not had a career that he envisioned for himself either. He’s motivated to do that. There’s no reason why he can’t do that for us."
Stallworth has played for five teams in seven NFL seasons.
Due to hamstring and quadriceps issues, he has only played in all 16 games three times.
The last time he played for an entire season was three years ago with the New England Patriots when he caught 46 passes for 697 yards and three touchdowns.
Throughout the case, his incarceration and his suspension, Stallworth said he never doubted that he would play in the NFL again.
“I’m a positive-thinking person, and I like to think of myself as an optimist,” Stallworth said. “From the very beginning after I met with Roger Goodell and after the ruling of me being suspended and being able to have the possibility of being reinstated after the Super Bowl, the only thing on my mind was to make sure that I tried to keep up with the guys. And I worked harder than probably I ever have in my whole life just to try to keep that same intensity.”
His best season was five years ago with the Saints when he caught 70 passes for 945 yards and seven touchdowns.
Hostler has vouched for Stallworth’s character.
“He’s an outstanding person,” Hostler said. “He’s got a great heart, you’ll feel it right away. He’s a great teammate. For a guy that’s fast, he’s maybe the only true fast guy that I’ve ever been around that is tough.
“Those are the reasons why he has a chance here with us. He’s going to be a great Raven. He has that mentality right off the bat.”
For his career, Stallworth has registered 296 receptions for 4,383 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Stallworth is highly motivated and the Ravens are hopeful that he’ll emerge as a deep threat alongside Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason.
After the most difficult year of his life and a situation that triggered dire consequences for the Reyes family, Stallworth said he’s looking forward to the future.
“One of the biggest things I learned about myself was that if you put your faith in God, that really just lets me know I can be at calm and peace and serenity with myself,” Stallworth said. “It was a really long year for me as well as other people, but I think that I continue to keep faith and persevere through everything. Coming off a year not playing any football, I had the chance to really sit back and have a renewed love for the game.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.