ESPN's E:60 to feature story on former UR football player

One of the two former University of Rochester football players who were abducted and tortured in December 2015 will be featured on ESPN's E:60 at 9 a.m. Sunday in what the network says is Nicholas Kollias' first televised interview about the ordeal.

Kollias and Ani Okeke Ewo, both UR seniors at the time of the crime, were wrongly targeted as payback for a drug-related robbery allegedly committed by a UR student who, like the two, had played for the Yellowjackets football team. That player was Isaiah E. Smith, who last March was sentenced to 13½ years in prison.

Nine people connected with the kidnapping and brutal acts carried out against the victims inside 22 Harvest St. in the city were convicted in 2016. Lydell Strickland, the man who planned the abduction, inflicted torture and stole the players' bank cards, got the worst of it. He was sentenced to 155 years in prison. Ewo declined to be interviewed by ESPN and is not named in the story, but a story on the ESPN website goes into great detail about the entire sequence of events.

The Rochester Police Department gave ESPN access to pictures of Kollias shortly after he and his teammate were rescued by a SWAT team, photographs taken inside the house and an officer's body-camera footage of the rescue.

The story also details how RPD investigators tracked down the football players, including using bank records to reveal a spending spree by Strickland with money taken from Kollias' account. 

Last February, Kollias sued the nine people convicted in the case for $10 million to recover damages for assault, battery and unlawful imprisonment.

During the trial in December 2016, the football players testified about how they were duped into going to a city home late on a Friday night by two young women who claimed they wanted to party. There, they were tied up and beaten — Kollias was shot twice — while being held captive for 40 hours. They were rescued by a police SWAT team on Sunday.

In his interview with reporter Tisha Thompson, Kollias details the horror of being captured and tortured and discusses his injuries, including a broken femur and being shot in both legs. A light was smashed over his head and he says a gun was put in his mouth.

ESPN obtained cellphone video shot by the abductors and Kollias, who is from suburban Chicago, that recounts details similar to his testimony in November 2016. Several masked men brandished guns, knives and chainsaws as they threatened and taunted the students as they lay bleeding and injured on a bathroom floor.

One of them is heard begging for his life.

"It was as bad as a horror film," RPD Chief Michael Ciminelli is heard saying in an ESPN video.

The ESPN story also reveals that it was then-UR assistant football coach Dan Kyle who posted $15,000 bail for Smith after his drug deal on Nov. 28, 2015, went bad and set off an intricate chain of events that led to his teammates being attacked a week later.

A linebacker out of the Bronx, Smith was a known drug dealer among UR teammates, Kollias told ESPN. Kollias also says the entire ordeal would not have happened if the university “had cracked down on Smith’s earlier drug activities — and if the Division III coaches he played for weren’t so blinded by Smith’s football talent,” wrote ESPN.

The network said it contacted Kyle, who is no longer with the university, UR head coach Scott Greene and university President Joel Seligman and all declined interview requests. Via e-mail, Greene declined comment on Thursday. The 45-year-old Canandaigua native is a former fullback at Michigan State and in the NFL (Indianapolis/Carolina).

UR spokesperson Sara Miller provided this response to the Democrat and Chronicle: "The events of December 2015 were truly heinous and we are horrified that our students had to endure them. We continue to wish them the best. However, in the current ESPN story, facts represented, characterizations made and conclusions drawn about the University’s practices and responses are inaccurate. The University cooperated with ESPN reporters and producers over several months to offer the information that we could appropriately provide."

UR also offered a comment in the ESPN story on accusations about Smith, saying it's not required to drug test players.

“Isaiah Smith was a student in good standing up until his arrest,” the statement continued before adding, “No member of the administration, nor any coaches or University athletics staff members asked Dan Kyle to sign for Smith's release. This was an unusual occurrence."

JDIVERON@Gannett.com

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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