Punks, Jocks and Justice

It lasted, at most, two or three seconds. Enough time to send a million impulses that ripped through her mind like neural buckshot.

They are stuck there as memories today, two years later, and Elise Thompson can feel them viscerally; she recalls the sounds, sights and sensations as though they were unfolding before her now.

The place is Amarillo, around 11 p.m. on December 12, 1997, a sharply cold winter night; she sees patches of snow on the asphalt.

She is sitting in the backseat of her friend's enormous Cadillac, and she is jerking her eyes from window to window as "chaos" wraps itself around her.

The car is moving.

She cannot form words, cannot breathe. Jagged images of bats and batons and chains crosscut the shadowy outlines of human figures chasing each other, grappling on the pavement.

Clubs and chains slam against glass and metal. The car turns, jumps a curb. She braces herself against the movements.

She hears the driver's words, floating up from the chaos, divorced from all context: "I'm a ninja in my Caddy."

She turns forward, straightens up in the middle of the backseat. Directly in front of the car, she sees a man with his arm raised up, his back to the grille. He is dressed in punk-rocker regalia. He is holding a black stick.

Instantly he turns. He is looking right at her. The look, she says, is "complete terror."

The car does not stop.

The man's body seems to roll onto the hood, then is sucked under. She feels one bump, then another.

She is hoping, desperately, that it is the median, not flesh.

She turns again, looking out the back window, and sees a crumpled figure on the pavement, limbs splayed, blood everywhere. A girl is running toward the body.

She hears more words from the driver; they have faded edges, they are less distinct. "I bet he liked that."

The car does not stop.

In tears, talking nervously about how he'd made a "mistake," about how he'd take the fall alone, the teenage driver of the Cadillac dropped off 16-year-old Thompson, his best friend, and Rob Mansfield, his buddy, who had been sitting beside him in the front seat, at their homes.

Mansfield and Thompson immediately woke up their parents. Within minutes, the families, who live across the alley from each other, were talking on the phone. Together, they escorted their children to the downtown police station, where both teens gave statements to officers.

Thompson did not sleep that night. She would go without sleep for many days.

The next morning would bring a small measure of order to the chaos. Order, but never any sense.

At 6 a.m. on December 13, Amarillo police pulled up to the home of a 17-year-old high school kid named Dustin Camp and arrested him for the death of 19-year-old Brian Deneke.

For whatever reason, Camp, universally described as a "clean-cut kid," with no criminal record, not even a traffic ticket, had not turned himself in after mowing down Deneke in his boatlike Cadillac.

Instead, he drove home and told his parents what had happened. They urged him to go to sleep; they'd do something about it in the morning. It was one of many missteps by Camp that would seem to indicate a callous nonchalance about Deneke's death.

Search warrant in hand, the police immediately examined the tan-colored 1983 Cadillac parked at the Camp home. On the hood were gashes and dings. On the car's undercarriage they found spattered blood.

An officer's affidavit shows that police seized as evidence "10 swabbings of possible blood," "2 hairs and/or fibers" and bits of paint. From the trunk, they got an "almost empty" bottle of Crown Royal whiskey and an 18-pack of Bud Light with 13 cans missing.

Dustin Camp was charged with murder.

From the accounts of witnesses in hospital emergency rooms and the homes of worried parents, police investigators pieced together an account of a colossal street fight: the jocks against the punks, or, in the derogatory tags the kids used, the "white hats" versus the "freaks."

Although as many as 50 teens were involved, no one will ever know the exact number. Most of them scattered immediately after Deneke was struck.

As cops delved deeper, the story that emerged from eyewitnesses grew uglier. Tension between the jocks and punks had existed for months. There had been constant name-calling in the halls of Tascosa and Amarillo high schools. Punks were getting jumped in the street by packs of white hats, so called because of their fondness for white caps bearing the names of colleges with top-ranked football teams, such as Notre Dame or Michigan. It's something none of the jocks wants to talk about now, but many of them appear to have made a sport of harassing the couple hundred punks, Goths and skinheads who make conservative Amarillo their home.

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Julie Lyons
Contact: Julie Lyons