Probe continues into Roethlisberger assault accusation

Small city thrust into media spotlight

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MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. -- Not here in this inconspicuous, modest antebellum city.

Not here does someone like dapper Atlanta private investigator Charles Mittelstadt often spin his polished silver Porsche into a parking space on Hancock Street, in the heart of the business district of this Middle Georgia college town of 20,000.

Not here do reporters employed by some of the country's most recognizable acronyms -- CNN, TMZ, ESPN -- often troll the streets for sources. Not here do satellite trucks roar in on Interstates 75 and 20, then onto narrow U.S. Route 441 to set up shop anywhere they can squeeze into a parking space.

"You could say this past week has been quite a change from what we are used to," said Mayor Richard Bentley, who keeps his office not in City Hall but down the block at his independent insurance agency.

Triggering that change was the visit of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, 28, and a subsequent sexual assault accusation from a 20-year-old female student at Georgia College & State University.

There are few public certainties about events involving Mr. Roethlisberger and the woman inside the Capital City nightclub during the early morning hours of March 5.

Mr. Roethlisberger was in Milledgeville for a night on the town after making the half-hour trip here from his home in Reynolds Plantation on Lake Oconee, an upscale community near Greensboro, Ga. He was accompanied by Steelers tackle Willie Colon, off-duty Coraopolis police Officer Anthony J. Barravecchio, off-duty Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Ed Joyner and several other men who have not been identified.

What is known: The woman has accused Mr. Roethlisberger of sexually assaulting her in a VIP area of the club. Mr. Roethlisberger has not been arrested or charged. He has secured the services of high-profile Atlanta attorney Ed Garland. The woman, who is not named because the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault, has hired Atlanta attorneys David Walbert and A. Lee Parks Jr.

Mr. Garland brought in Mr. Mittelstadt, who also worked as an investigator on Atlanta cases involving homicide and aggravated assault charges filed in 2000 against Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and the 1996 Summer Olympics bombing case in which one person was killed and more than 100 were wounded.

Mr. Lewis later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice. Antigovernment extremist Eric Rudolph, who was captured after hiding for five years in the North Carolina mountains, pleaded guilty to the Olympics bombing and three others and is serving a life term in prison.

For as hospitable as Mr. Bentley has been since Mr. Roethlisberger came to town and the media followed -- in an aside, he mentioned he's a fan of Steelers wide receiver and former Georgia Bulldog Hines Ward -- the mayor understands, nine days later, how Milledgeville might want to get back to, well, being Milledgeville.

"For a while it was a novelty," Mr. Bentley said. "But then I believe for many of the students, it became a bit of aggravation and then turned into what they viewed as an invasion of privacy."

That much was unmistakable late last week outside a few of the bars that Mr. Roethlisberger had visited the previous week. On Thursday night, as the clock was pushing into Friday, one college-age male wearing a GCSU ball cap cursed at a reporter while walking on Hancock Street.

"I'm not telling you my name," the young man said. "... go back up North, we don't want all y'all down here."

A few minutes later outside The Brick, a bar Mr. Roethlisberger had visited before going to Capital City, a group of students was asked for comment on Mr. Roethlisberger.

They did.

"Ben Roethlisberger isn't welcome here anymore," said another man who wouldn't give his name. "It is you media people that are making a big deal out of this. Some outsider came into our town ... and then left. I just wish y'all would leave us alone."

His companion chimed in: "Just leave us alone and let us get back to our lives."

Heading into the weekend, Milledgeville police Chief Woodrow Blue sat in his office and spoke about photos that appeared in the local newspaper, showing Mr. Roethlisberger posing with some of his officers. The chief stressed that his officers' involvement with those photos will not jeopardize the integrity of the investigation of the sexual assault allegations.

He also spoke of how the aftermath of Mr. Roethlisberger's visit continues to be trying for a town already shaken by recent closings of a Rheem heating and cooling products plant and a Shaw carpet mill, and by an unemployment rate that has hit 14.2 percent.

"Milledgeville is a great city, and we have a lot to offer here," Chief Blue said. "This is a great historic city with great civic organizations and a great place to live."

Reaching to his shoulder, the chief pressed his index finger to the "1803" patch sewn to his uniform to denote the year the city was founded and named after former Georgia Gov. John Milledge.

"This city has been a great place since 1803, and it will continue to be a great place," he said. "I don't think it would be fair to think of Milledgeville and then to think of Ben Roethlisberger."

Fair or not, for many -- particularly those who don't hail from here -- that long may be the case.


Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1459.


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