A former wrestling champion from Columbia was charged yesterday with murder, accused of beating another teen to death with an aluminum baseball bat during a melee at an Ellicott City high school that attracted dozens of youths to an apparently pre-arranged meeting in the middle of the night.
Kevin Francis Klink, 18, who graduated from Oakland Mills High School last year, faces a bail hearing today in the death of Robert Brazell, 18, of Ellicott City. They were among about two dozen youths from several Howard County high schools involved in a fight on a Mount Hebron High School athletic field about 12:30 a.m. Saturday, said Sherry Llewellyn, a Howard County police spokeswoman.
Brazell was taken by helicopter to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he underwent two surgeries for a serious head wound. He died Sunday.
Klink was charged yesterday with first- and second-degree murder, first- and second-degree assault, and reckless endangerment.
Klink won the Class 2A-1A South region wrestling title at 189 pounds last February in a tournament where he defeated Steve Sessa, the eventual state champion. Sessa, 19, of Columbia said last night that he saw Klink at this year's regional wrestling tournament Saturday - hours after the melee - at Atholton High School in Columbia.
"He was like, 'Hey, man, we've got to hang out.' I thought that everything was cool. He seemed happy," Sessa said.
Brazell was a senior at Mount Hebron High until he dropped out of school in December. His death is the first homicide in Howard County this year. The county had four homicides last year.
During the fight, Klink approached Brazell from behind and struck him in the head with the baseball bat, according to documents filed in Howard County District Court.
Llewelyn said investigators were unclear about the motive, but the incident appeared to stem from an earlier argument.
"These are two group of high school kids with an ongoing dispute, and they wanted to hash it out," she said. "We don't want people to jump to conclusions" that it was gang-related. "There is no indication that there were any gang-like actions - there were no gang rituals in this."
Most fighters fled
Llewelyn said that when police arrived, they found most of the youths had fled the scene. A source close to the investigation said some people at the scene appeared to be intoxicated.
Two others who are alleged to have been involved in the melee, Jacob Sams and Evan Tubbs, both 17 years old and students at Hammond High School in Columbia, were treated at Shock Trauma for injuries and released, police said.
Police said witnesses gave details that led detectives to Klink. He was arrested Sunday evening at a gas station in Ellicott City.
Efforts to reach relatives at Brazell's residence and by telephone were unsuccessful. Brazell had been in Howard County District Court on Feb. 13 for charges from an October incident when police alleged he had marijuana in a DVD video case, according to court records.
T. Wayne Kirwan, a spokesman for the Howard County State's Attorney's Office, said prosecutors reached a pretrial agreement with Brazell to not prosecute him because he did not have a prior criminal record.
Brazell was ordered to serve 16 hours of community service, which was to begin in June, Kirwan said.
Mount Hebron High School teachers informed students of Brazell's death yesterday, and grief counseling was provided by the school system. They were also encouraged to contact police with any information about Brazell's death.
Cindy Ardinger, the vice president of the Mount Hebron PTSA, said her daughter attended class with Brazell but did not know him well.
"I'm surprised; I'm truly shocked," Ardinger said. "Our children seemed to be unaware of it. Other parents were unaware of it."
Klink's residential Columbia neighborhood was quiet yesterday afternoon. No one answered a doorbell at Klink's ranch-style brick home in the 6800 block of Allview Drive.
One neighbor, who declined to be identified, said that Klink was a peer mentor to the neighbor's mentally disabled foster son.
He described Klink as a "nice kid" who had made "bad decisions." The neighbor said Klink's family had lived in the neighborhood for more than 20 years.
Klink was charged in September with driving while impaired by alcohol, and in November a Howard County District Court judge sentenced him to probation before judgment.
A co-captain on the wresting team, Klink compiled a record of 28 wins and five losses during 2005-2006, his senior season at Oakland Mills.
Brad Howell, Oakland Mills' wrestling coach, declined to comment when reached at his home last night.
No one could be reached at Brazell's home in a three-level apartment complex yesterday in the 5100 block of Wheaton Way in Ellicott City.
Within a day after his death, tributes to Brazell were appearing on the Internet. On the social networking Web site facebook.com, a memorial had been set up.
The site, which had six pictures of Brazell, by yesterday afternoon included 13 posts from friends expressing their shock and grief.
One post recalled "crazy football" games they had played and another spoke of days spent together in the fifth and sixth grades.
Brazell had a Myspace.com account in which he advocated the legalization of marijuana and drinking beer.
What is a gang
Although Howard County police said the melee was not gang-related, one expert said certain elements fit Maryland's definition of gang activity.
"Looking at the news, it sounded gang-related to me," said Frank Clark, director of the gang intervention and investigative unit for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. "Apparently these kids met up with the intention of fighting. It is one of the triggers we would look at being gang-related. There are a lot of other things that have to be look at."
A gang consists of three or more people who form to participate in illegal activities, create an atmosphere of intimidation or fear, and whose members have a common identifying sign, symbol or name, according to the state's definition.
Clark said gang activity exists in Howard County. Last year the Howard County school system included Clark in a gang-prevention presentation.
Sun reporter Lem Satterfield contributed to this article.