Connor Bruce Croll was just a couple months into his freshman year at the University of Alabama, a floppy-haired 19-year-old from small-town Virginia who joined a fraternity to ease his transition.
Then at 9:31 p.m. Tuscaloosa time on Saturday, according to authorities, he decided to play what appears to be a joke. Croll told police that, “his friend was on the verge of losing a big bet,” in the Florida-LSU game that was being played at that time.
In an effort to halt the game, he called the non-emergency line of the Baton Rouge police department and stated, “There is a bomb in the stadium.” He then hung up.
There was no bomb and it stands to reason Croll would have no idea, let alone any inclination to ever make or plant one.
As such, perhaps there were laughs back in Tuscaloosa. There were none in Baton Rouge, where such a threat is taken deathly serious.
About 100,000 people were attending the nationally televised game at Tiger Stadium. LSU police were immediately notified and followed established protocol, including calling in federal authorities and making a comprehensive sweep of the stadium and surrounding grounds, according to the university. With nothing discovered, the game played on.
Meanwhile, Baton Rouge police traced the call to Tuscaloosa and contacted police there for assistance. They quickly pinpointed the phone’s location on the Alabama campus and quickly went and arrested Croll.
The threat was obviously fake. The fallout is very real.
Croll is now facing felony charges in East Baton Rouge Parish for the “communication of false information of a planned bombing on school property at a school-supported function,” District Attorney Hillar C. Moore, III told Yahoo Sports.
The penalty if convicted?
“Up to 20 years with or without hard labor,” Moore said. “It’s a serious charge.”
Croll, after being brought from Tuscaloosa to Baton Rouge on Monday, posted a $100,000 bond and is currently free. Moore said the investigation into all that happened is ongoing, both in Louisiana and Alabama.
As news of the arrest and the comically stupid reason behind it made the news, reports ricocheted around the internet, giving plenty of people a laugh and another joke about just how crazy college football fans in general, and SEC fans in particular, can get.
For authorities though, the case hopefully serves as another reminder to fans that while passion for the team (or a bet) is great, there are clear and important limits to what is acceptable.
“The LSU police were extremely well prepared and ready for it,” Moore said. “They planned for it. And there was fairly quick work by the police in Alabama. But this is the kind of thing that can make people very nervous. What if they had to evacuate the stadium? Surely there’d be widespread panic.
“How do you evacuate a stadium immediately when it takes hours to get everyone in there?” Moore continued. “There is no telling what kind of damage or danger that could come from that.”
Moore said his office will follow the law and nothing else when it comes to Croll. About the only positive that can come from such outrageous behavior is that it serves as a reminder to everyone else to not push the boundaries when it comes to football games.
George Hesni would understand that. A former New Orleans police officer, Hesni was in the middle of a 16-year run as a prosecutor in 2012 when he filed charges against an Alabama fan for rubbing his genitals on the head of a passed-out LSU fan inside a Krystal restaurant on Bourbon Street.
The incident took place after Alabama had defeated LSU in the BCS championship game. The incident had been filmed and uploaded to the internet. What some saw as ridiculous behavior — the depths of fan taunting — Hesni saw as sexual battery.
“We wanted to make a statement,” Hesni told Yahoo Sports. “This is unacceptable. This kind of act is wrong.”
That the perpetrator, Brian Downing, was then a 33-year-old, married and otherwise law-abiding citizen who essentially had been drinking and was overcome with the moment didn’t matter. In fact, that was the point.
There are a lot of people like that at sporting events. Same with college kids screwing around on Saturday night.
Neither is a defense. Even in the SEC.
Downing pleaded guilty and served a one-year prison term. How Croll handles his case has yet to be determined, but the penalty could be severe.
Meanwhile, the message is clear.
“It’s generally not a good idea to do something just to send a message,” said Moore, the East Baton Rouge prosecutor. “But we hope that whatever comes out of this by following the law people see it and think, ‘OK, I can’t do that, because this will happen.”
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