FOXBOROUGH — The son understands that it will follow him forever; the mother wishes others could forgive him, as God and the Reyes family have.
The son has learned to tune out the ignorance, which still comes at him, in the form of anonymous tweets or shouts from the stands; that truly nothing good happens after 1 o’clock in the morning, that one decision can affect the lives of many.
The mother has learned that her son is an incredibly strong man, one of the strongest she’s ever known.
Before March 14, 2009, Donte’ Stallworth was known as a talented if underachieving receiver with a history of hamstring issues, a former first-round pick who had yet to record a 1,000-yard season in seven NFL campaigns.
Since that morning, he has been known far more for the car accident on a Miami causeway that left a hard-working Cuban immigrant dead, his wife widowed, and his 15-year-old daughter without a father.
. . .
Stallworth had slept the day away March 13. An early-morning workout as he prepared to join his Cleveland Browns teammates for organized team activities the next week left him tired, so he sought refuge in his bed.
He called a good friend who had just bought a house in the area with his young family to postpone dinner plans for that night. It is not lost on Stallworth that had he opted to visit with his friend, things may be different now.
But he didn’t.
He was awakened around 2 a.m. by a call from a different friend, who was celebrating his birthday. In Miami, it isn’t uncommon for folks to start filling the clubs well after midnight, so Stallworth dressed and headed to the hotel that housed the nightclub where the birthday party was being held.
He arrived after 3, had some drinks, and stayed for only an hour. He moved to a room in the hotel to hang out with more acquaintances, but says he did not have a drink there. Another hour passed, and Stallworth returned home.
He went back to sleep, but only for an hour and a half; he arose around 7, thirsty and hungry. He found his refrigerator empty and decided to go for an early breakfast.
As he came around a bend on the MacArthur Causeway, Stallworth saw Reyes, as he said, streaking across the road. Reyes had just finished his overnight shift as a crane operator and was running to the bus stop.
It all happened quickly.
Stallworth didn’t hit Reyes head-on; the impact was on the passenger’s side of his car, and Stallworth initially believed he’d hit the 59-year-old man in the arm or perhaps his leg. He didn’t believe it had been a fatal strike.
Police said Stallworth was going 50 miles per hour at the time, 10 m.p.h over the posted speed limit.
He stopped immediately, reached for the cellphone in his gym bag to call 911, and began walking toward Reyes, who was lying in the road. Police arrived quickly, and Stallworth admitted he had been drinking hours earlier.
Hours later, after asking three or four times, he was told that Reyes had died. Donna Stallworth got one of those calls that no parent should ever have to get.
Initially, Donte’ wasn’t charged. But when the blood tests came back, Stallworth was found to be legally drunk at the time of the accident. He was charged with DUI manslaughter two weeks later and quickly turned himself in.
Looking within himself
Stallworth took responsibility for it all, even though there was evidence that likely would have exonerated him in a trial; his lawyers and his mother tried, over and over, to convince him to go that route. But he wouldn’t listen.
He felt he had caused the Reyes family enough pain, so he accepted a plea deal that led to him spending almost a month in jail, the lifetime revocation of his driver’s license, and eight years of probation. He also came to a confidential financial settlement with the family.
It wasn’t about him. First and foremost, he was concerned about Reyes’s daughter.
The family reached out to thank Stallworth for the way he handled things from the moment the accident happened, and they have forgiven him.
In county jail, Stallworth detested having his freedom taken away. He missed the small things, like watching television with his nieces and nephews, or listening to music.
He used the days for introspection. He decided to be more cognizant of whom he spent time with and who was around him and why they were around him; certainly to essentially end trips to nightclubs and drinking simply to drink, though he does still have one or two on occasion in a social setting, and almost always at home.
Stallworth heard from friends who offered support, including Tom Brady. The Northern California natives had known each other for a while, had played together in 2007, when Stallworth was part of the greatest offense the league had ever seen.Continued...