Bathroom entry was said to be guarded

Updated: March 26, 2010, 2:08 PM ET
By Kelly Naqi | ESPN

The manager of the club where Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is accused of having sexually assaulted a 20-year-old Georgia woman said Thursday one of the woman's friends told him a member of Roethlisberger's entourage had denied her entrance to the area leading to the bathroom where she believed the accuser and Roethlisberger were that night.

The accuser told police later that night Roethlisberger had assaulted her in the club's bathroom.

Rocky Duncan, the manager of Capital City bar in Milledgeville, Ga., said Roethlisberger and his entourage of "about nine" people, not including the accuser or her friends, had arrived at the bar at approximately 1:10 a.m. Duncan said a member of Roethlisberger's group had asked for VIP seating in a private section of the club and a bouncer from the club to be stationed outside the area. Duncan said Roethlisberger's friend said, "We want the girls [to be allowed back into that section]."

Duncan said he escorted Roethlisberger and his group to the back room, sealed off by a curtain, that serves as the VIP area. Duncan said the bouncer, stationed outside the curtain, allowed women into the VIP area throughout the night.

Later in the evening, according to Duncan, most of Roethlisberger's group had wandered from the VIP area to a larger room that opens up off it -- a room also closed to the general public. Duncan said there were about 25 people in that area, called "the stage room."

Duncan said he saw Roethlisberger standing and talking with what appeared to be a woman sitting on a stool a few feet from the bathroom door, which was separated from the stage room by a 4-foot divider. Roethlisberger's frame blocked Duncan from seeing the woman. But Duncan added he had never seen the accuser and did not know what she looked like. Duncan said a member of Roethlisberger's entourage, whom he called "the ringleader," was sitting on a stool about a foot away from the door that led to the area where Roethlisberger and the woman had been talking.

Approximately 30 seconds after he saw Roethlisberger talking to the woman, Duncan said one of the accuser's friends approached Duncan and said, "I think my friend is in the bathroom with Ben, but the door [leading to the bathroom area] is locked, and I'm trying to get back there, and this guy [one of Roethlisberger's friends] wouldn't let me through." Duncan said she also told him, "I think my friend may be drunk."

Duncan said the accuser's friend "did not seem frantic, it was someone just looking for her friend." He said he told the woman she could either try to hop over the divider that separated the stage room from the bathroom area or "go around to the back and go through the backside entrance, because that door doesn't have a handle to it and you can go in that way." Duncan said he didn't know if the woman tried to get back into the bathroom area.

When asked if he thought there was anything alarming about a member of Roethlisberger's group standing outside a locked door, prohibiting someone from going into that area, Duncan said, "No, not really. Those guys had been protective of Ben all night. You wouldn't want someone taking a snapshot of Ben using the toilet."

There are seven cameras inside Capital City, according to Duncan. There are no cameras in the VIP area or in the "stage room" because those areas were added during a renovation. From camera footage that records the entrance and the main dance floor area, Duncan said he believes he saw the accuser and her friends -- which included the woman who had approached him earlier -- leave the bar around 1:45 a.m.

"They just walked out together," he said, "like you see any other time."

Duncan said he learned someone had made an accusation against Roethlisberger when "I got a call from Sergeant [Jerry] Blash, and he said a young woman approached him and said Ben assaulted her. He asked if they [Roethlisberger's group] were still at the club, and I said, 'Yes.' "

Duncan said police came to the club and spoke "briefly" with Roethlisberger and his group, in what Duncan described as an informal way. Duncan said he talked with police March 5, the day the allegations were made.

When he was asked if Roethlisberger had seemed inebriated that night, Duncan said, "You see a lot at a bar. Was he the drunkest person I ever met? No. Did he have a buzz? Probably."

On March 8, three days after the alleged incident, Duncan said police reviewed video footage of the night at his office in the club. The police were called away suddenly because of a murder in the area. Shortly afterward, Duncan said, his "tech guy" tried to make a copy of the camera outputs to give to the police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which was assisting on the case, but encountered problems. Duncan said they had trouble accessing the video again, and he was later informed by the GBI that there was nothing on the recordings.

The GBI said it has spoken with every member of Roethlisberger's group, except Roethlisberger. The GBI's initial request for a sample of Roethlisberger's DNA was rescinded more than a week ago, but its request to speak with Roethlisberger is still outstanding. Despite recently published reports to the contrary, the accuser "is still actively cooperating with the GBI's investigation," a source with knowledge of the investigation said Thursday.

ESPN phoned two women who were listed in the police incident report as being with the accuser that night, to ask for comment or corroboration. One said, "I can't comment on any of this, I'm sorry"; the other woman hung up.

Roethlisberger's attorney, Ed Garland, was not immediately available for comment.

Kelly Naqi is a reporter for ESPN.

Kelly Naqi joined ESPN in September 1987, and is currently one of two full-time reporters assigned to the Emmy award-winning series Outside the Lines. Kelly also contributes to ESPNEWS and other ESPN news-gathering programs, including SportsCenter, NFL Tonight and Baseball Tonight. She is a native of Rumford, R.I., and graduated from Boston College with a bachelor of arts in philosophy.

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