The father of Neil Caricofe, the Hagerstown wrestling champion who died after Ocean City police tried to subdue him, said yesterday that his son suffered a possible broken nose, swelling around his eyes and a bruise on the back of his head before he collapsed in a hotel parking lot and died Friday.
Richard Caricofe, 54, also said in a telephone interview from his Hagerstown home that he did not hold Ocean City police liable and that he thought Neil, 33, probably was at fault. He said he thinks police did the best job they could to subdue his son at the Fenwick Inn.
"I'm at peace and I believe that they [police] have nothing to hide," Caricofe said. "If they dig up anything at all, they would let me know. I would love to point fingers and say it wasn't my boy, but I can't."
He said he was angry when he learned of the head injury, which he thought might have been caused by a baton blow from a police officer. But he said a Maryland State Police investigator and a friend who is a state trooper at the Berlin barracks said several witnesses told police that his son hit his head on a vending machine as he was eluding capture.
Richard Caricofe also said that a mortician, Gerald N. Minnich, director of Minnich Funeral Home in Hagerstown, described his son's injuries to him.
Ocean City police said officers used pepper spray and struck Caricofe with batons on his legs during the struggle that began about 4: 30 a.m. at the inn.
Police spokesman Jay Hancock said that according to the accounts he has heard, Caricofe would not have suffered facial bruises or a head injury. He refused yesterday to comment on how Caricofe might have sustained them.
"I haven't seen the medical examiner's report and I wouldn't comment on [the injuries]," Hancock said. "I think we'll wait and let the medical examiner's report speak."
The state medical examiner was expected to release autopsy results and a cause of death today.
The Worcester County Bureau of Investigation -- composed of officers from the state police, the Worcester sheriff's department and other municipal police forces except Ocean City -- is investigating Caricofe's death at the request of Ocean City police Chief David C. Massey, Hancock said.
No disciplinary action has been taken against the officers involved in the incident.
Caricofe, who was 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 267 pounds, was known as Neil "The Power" Superior in the wrestling ring. He owned Neil Superior's Pro Wrestling School in Hagerstown.
He wrestled in the National Wrestling League, a group run by his father, and had wrestled on short-term contracts with better-know World Championship Wrestling. In 1992 he was ranked 149th among the top 500 wrestlers in the country by Pro Wrestling Illustrated, a national magazine.
Outside the ring, Caricofe was a correctional officer at Central Laundry in Sykesville, a Maryland correctional prerelease center, where he was known as a "good officer and a caring person," who took long-stemmed roses to every female co-worker on Valentine's Day, according to co-worker Deanna Purkey. He also was in the Army Reserve.
Neil's mother, Pat Caricofe, said Saturday that her son may have been having a seizure early Friday when a hotel patron called police to complain that a naked man was walking on the seventh floor of the inn. She said her son was diagnosed a couple of years ago with seizures that caused him to appear to be sleepwalking.
Hancock said that when police arrived, they tried to talk to Caricofe and then tried to handcuff him, but he escaped their grasp.
Caricofe did not attack officers but resisted their attempts to subdue him, Hancock said.
When officers used pepper spray and struck him with batons on his legs to subdue him, Hancock said, he eluded police, walked down a stairwell and into an area of vending machines and then onto a rear parking lot, police said.
Richard Caricofe said police told him his son bumped his head on one of the vending machines.
In the parking lot, he was surrounded by other officers who again tried to subdue him before he collapsed and died a short time later, Hancock said.
His mother said the seizures happened only when her son was asleep. A local doctor told the family the seizures were caused by a neurological problem that might have resulted from a wrestling injury.
His mother said he never spoke during the seizures, which may have been why he and the officers were unable to communicate.
Caricofe's doctor could not be reached for comment.
Dwayne Caricofe, Neil's brother who often helped his mother during Neil's seizures, said a simple shake was usually enough to snap his brother out of it.
"I'd go over there, and he'd just be walking like he didn't know where he was," Dwayne Caricofe said.
"I don't know if the cops startled him, and he started fighting back. It might've startled him too much, and of course, with someone that big, [the police] are going to fight back," he said yesterday.
He declined to say whether he thought there was any wrongdoing, saying the truth would come out.
"If there was something wrong done, we're going to find out about it," Dwayne Caricofe said. "If Neil did something wrong, we're going to drop it."
Funeral services will be held at 1: 30 p.m. tomorrow at Christ Lutheran Church in the 200 block of Cleveland Ave. in Hagerstown. Interment will follow at Rest Haven Cemetery.
Pub Date: 8/26/96