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Was A Limo Driver’s Mysterious Death At Ex-NBA Star’s Home Really A Suicide?
A 911 caller reported a suicide at a star athlete's home. But police uncovered a different story.
When an after-hours party went terribly wrong, investigators had to determine what really happened.
In the early morning hours of February 14, 2002, a panicked 911 call was made from a residence in quiet Hunterdon County, New Jersey.
“We have an emergency. Somebody just got shot,” the caller said in a recording of the report heard on Accident, Suicide or Murder,” airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen. “He shot himself!”
Officers arrived at the scene at the home of former New Jersey Nets basketball star Jayson Williams.Individuals at the estate directed police to an upstairs bedroom. The victim was limousine driver Costas “Gus” Christofi, 55, of Washington, New Jersey. He’d been assigned to drive Williams and his party.
“Gus was lying on the floor with a blood-soaked shirt and clearly deceased,” said Katharine Errickson, former Asst. District Attorney, Hunterdon County.
Christofi was pronounced dead at 3:28 a.m. He had suffered a gunshot to the front of his chest.
The firearm was located “a good distance away” from him,” investigators said.
The men in the house included then 33-year-old Williams, an ex-ballplayer well-liked in this community, his half-brother Victor Santiago, who was the person who called 911, four of the ballplayer’s friends, and four Harlem Globetrotters.
Following a Globetrotters show in nearby Pennsylvania, Williams and the group had gone out to eat. After dinner, Christofi drove them all back to the Williams' 65-acre New Jersey estate.Christofi, who was born in Cyprus and called “Gussy” by loved ones, was invited in.
A Jayson Williams fan, Chrisofi was known for his easygoing personality as well as his resilience. After getting clean from a drug habit, Christofi helped people dealing with substance abuse, according to lehighvalleylive.com. He became a limo driver not long before his death.
His life was on track, so investigators questioned why he would've taken his own life. After inspecting the room in which he was found, they also questioned why it was filled with so many loaded firearms in unlocked cabinets.
The 911 caller claimed Christofi grabbed one of Williams’ firearms out of a cabinet and shot himself. But according to “Accident, Suicide or Murder,” Williams had instructed guests not to speak to police in front of officers.
“This was unusual because it was called in to 911 as a suicide,” said Errickson. “So now there were suspicions about why they were willing to cover up what happened.”
Christofi’s family members never believed Gussy killed himself.
“He had a zest for life,” said Dr. Dora Kontogiannis, the victim’s aunt, who called the suicide story “just crazy.”
The distance between Christofi’s body and the gun, along with the absence of a blood trail, led detectives to also have suspicions about the death being a suicide.
Two days after his death, the medical examiner’s autopsy revealed that he had been shot straight into his chest. Had he pulled the trigger himself, the blast would have been at an angle.
“What we saw wasn’t consistent with what we were told,” said John Garkowski, former senior investigator for the New Jersey State Police. “It wasn't a self-inflicted gunshot.”
The death was officially ruled a homicide. Pursuant to that ruling, Williams emerged with a statement that presented a new perspective on the case.
On February 17, Williams’ attorney told the press that what occurred was “a tragic accident,” said Errickson. “He did not want to give a lot of detail.”
The lack of information in Williams’ attorney’s statement raised more red flags.
Detectives tested the weapon for fingerprints. They found that the gun had been wiped clean. That further supported the theory that the crime scene had been tampered with before authorities arrived.
Detectives continued piecing together events by interviewing witnesses at the Mountain View Chalet, where Williams’ party had dined before going to his home. They were able to confirm that Christofi hadn’t relapsed. He hadn’t been drinking or partying, according to a number of witnesses.
Investigators looked for leads elsewhere. Jayson Williams was a highly regarded person in Hunterdon County, but his personal memoir revealed a darker side.
“There were multiple examples of reckless conduct … with mishandling firearms,” said Errickson. One incident led to an arrest that was given the benefit of a pre-trial intervention for first-time offenders in New Jersey.
Investigators leaned on the witnesses in the home by filing obstruction of justice charges. One person finally came forward.
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Police learned that Williams invited his guests to see his gun collection. One of the firearms he showed off was a Browning 12-gauge shotgun, according to the New York Post.
While Williams was holding the gun it went off and Christofi was shot in the chest. The witness said that this happened at 2:15 am — about 45 minutes before the 911 call came in at 2:54 a.m.
"Forty-five minutes is a long time, but that's how long it took for them to get their stories together,” said Errickson. “Jayson in that split second concocted that Gus killed himself.”
That’s when the gun was wiped down, according to investigators. Williams stripped, gave his clothes to John Gordnick, and told him to get rid of them. Williams then ran downstairs and dove into his indoor swimming pool, presumably to get rid of any gunpowder residue.
Another witness corroborated the report. The blood-stained hidden clothes were handed over to police.
On February 25, Williams was charged with second-degree reckless manslaughter, as well as other charges related to tampering with evidence.Shortly thereafter, Williams was released on bail, but the investigation remained ongoing.
The witnesses were all given immunity for their cooperation and agreed to testify in court. In January 2004, the high-profile trial began. On April 30, 2004, the jury found Jayson Williams guilty of covering up the crime but were deadlocked on the reckless manslaughter charge.
Six years passed while both sides prepared for a second trial. On January 11, 2010, Williams pleaded guilty to aggravated assault. He spent 18 months in prison, and he was released April 13, 2012.
To learn more about the case, watch “Accident, Suicide or Murder,” airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.