COLUMBIA, SC The State Supreme Court has upheld the conviction of an Alabama football fan stemming from a fatal alcohol-fueled fight after a 2010 University of South Carolina home football game that resulted in the death of a USC football fan.
In a 3-2 decision, the high court ruled there were no errors serious enough in the 2013 Richland County trial of Curtis James Simms, now 30, to overturn his conviction on high and aggravated breach of the peace in connection with the gruesome death of avid USC football fan Martin Gasque, 20.
The trial brought attention to excessive drinking and fan mania around Williams-Brice Stadium before home football games. Evidence at the trial showed both Gasque and Simms had been drinking.
Both Gasque and Simms tailgated with friends in separate areas and drank alcohol liberally Oct. 9, 2010, when underdog USC beat then-No. 1-ranked Alabama. The two men did not know each other before their 30-second chance meeting.
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According to trial evidence, Gasque had a .23 blood alcohol content – three times what is legal evidence for impairment. In a statement to police shortly after Gasque’s death, Simms admitted drinking 10-15 beers and three liquor-laced Jell-O shots that day.
Simms was tried on manslaughter charges. After a six-day trial, a Richland County jury found him guilty of the breach of peace charge. Judge Diane Goodstein gave Simms five years.
Witnesses said Simms punched Gasque in the face, knocking him down and under a moving pickup truck driven by Gasque’s friend, Adam Paxton, on Shop Road in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Paxton did not know his large truck was rolling over Gasque’s body and head as he tried to move the truck out of the roadway on onto the shoulder.
Simms entered state prison following the trial, in February 2013, and was released on probation on Aug. 1, 2014, according to S.C. Department of Corrections records.
In its decision, the Supreme Court said that “high and aggravated breach of the peace” conviction was warranted because the fight between Gasque and Simms happened as a capacity crowd at Williams-Brice was leaving the stadium.
“Thousands of fans were attempting to exit all corners of the stadium on foot and in vehicles,” the high court said. “...the resultant melee caused previously slow-moving traffic to come to a standstill for over two hours as the fight occurred on a particularly busy thoroughfare.
“Further, many members of the public witnessed the victim’s death,” the high court majority wrote.
Simms’ “direct involvement in the incident, which led to the victim’s unfortunate demise, contributed to the distress of many members of the community and the general public upheaval that followed,” the majority wrote.
Chief Justice Jean Toal, an avid USC sports fan, wrote the opinion and was joined by associate justices Kittredge and Don Beatty. Associate justices Costa Pleicones and Kaye Hearn, dissented.