Once a champion, now an inmate
By Beth Velliquette
The Daily Reflector
Thursday, December 14, 2017
On Nov. 10, 1984, Greenville resident Curtis “Cowboy” Crandall won the Men’s Super Light Heavyweight Kickboxing Championship of the World at the Reno MGM Grand Hotel and Casino.
He went to parties with celebrities like actor Burt Reynolds and wrestlers Dusty Roads and Ric Flare, and maybe could have had a career in movies.
On Wednesday, Crandall, 58, appeared in Pitt County Criminal Superior Court and pleaded guilty to selling cocaine and being an habitual felon and was sentenced to a minimum of seven years in prison.
It is the 19th time he’s been sentenced to prison. His criminal record is lengthy.
Since 1984, he’s been convicted of assault, driving while impaired, and multiple counts of common law robbery, selling drugs, breaking and entering, larceny and possession with intent to sell and deliver cocaine, according to the N.C. Department of Correction.
Even as he was rising in the world of kickboxing in the early 1980s, Crandall, who was born in Greenville, started trying drugs. He did them all, he said, but it was the cocaine that got him, and it is cocaine that still has him.
In an jail cell interview Wednesday just after he had been sentenced to go back to prison, Crandall said that maybe someone will learn a lesson from his story and will stay away from drugs.
“The cocaine, it just ruined my life,” he said.
One of the lessons he’d like to impart to young people is to never try drugs and stay away from people who use drugs, he said.
“If you hang with fleas, you end up with them,” Crandall said.
CHAMP TO CHUMP
When Crandall was about 18, he met the late Bill McDonald at a gym in Greenville. McDonald, a renown martial artist and insurance salesman in Greenville, trained kickboxers including champion heavyweight kickboxer Demetrius Oaktree Edwards of Ayden.
McDonald invited Crandall to come over to his kickboxing studio and work out. Two months later, Crandall entered his first amateur fight, he said.
“I’ve got six brothers, and I’m the baby of the family,” Crandall said. “I already knew how to fight because I fought my brothers all the time.”
Superior Court Judge Jeff Foster heard Crandall’s case in Pitt County Criminal Superior Court, and Foster recalled that when he was in college at ECU many people knew of “Cowboy.” He always wore a cowboy hat and strode around town with an air of confidence, Foster said.
When Crandall turned pro, he traveled and fought throughout North America, including in Quebec, Toronto, Ottawa, Detroit, Madison Square Garden in New York City, Boston, Cincinnati, Las Vegas and Reno.
He was also starting to try drugs at the parties. He tried all kinds of drugs, but he loved the cocaine and became addicted to it.
“That’s what got my life messed up,” he said. “I didn’t even know I was gone until I got arrested.”
He was still fighting and won another championship but then walked away from it, and began spending time with his new best friend, cocaine. His life went from partying with celebrities to hanging out on street corners trying to figure out a way to come up with some money to buy more cocaine.
Assistant District Attorney Caroline Webb said that Crandall was a target of a Greenville Police Department unit that was targeting street level dealers. On Aug, 25, 2016, a confidential informant with the department approached Crandall, who was hanging out in front of the Mid-Town Grocery on West 14th Street and asked Crandall if he knew where he could buy some cocaine.
Crandall took the informant to a residence on Paris Avenue, took the informant’s money, went inside and came out with 1.3 grams of cocaine, Webb said.
“I’m just sorry I’ve done what I’ve done. I’m not a drug dealer,” Crandall said. “If you come up to me and I’m on it, yeah I’ll get it for you because I can [take] some for myself.”
His attorney, Mark Stewart, said Crandall was smart but because of his felony record and not being able to read or write above the third-grade level, it was hard for him to get a job.
Judge Foster recalled that when he graduated from college, he worked as a probation officer with Rick Streeter, who was Crandall’s probation officer.
Foster remembered that Crandall was always kind and respectful. “You were never anything but polite to me and Mr. Streeter,” Foster said.
Streeter tried to talk him out of using drugs, but it never worked, Foster said.
“I wish there was something that could have been done or could be done,” Foster said. “All these years were wasted.”
JUST SAY NO
Crandall agreed, although he indicated he may continue using cocaine in prison.
“You can get it in prison. Anything you can get on the street you can get in prison,” Crandall said. “If you stop us, we’ll find another way to get it.”
Foster, who sentenced Crandall to approximately 7 1/2 years to 10 years in prison, suggested young people might learn from Crandall about making the right decisions when they’re young.
“If you don’t drink, don’t start,” Crandall said. “That’s how I started; started smoking and drinking and trying to fit in.”
He advised young people that if their friends are drinking or starting to use drugs, change friends.
“Make some kind of excuse to get away from them,” Crandall said.
The longest spell he spent in prison was 10 years, and now he’s starting seven more, he said.
“I’ve got to do these seven years because of my ignorance of drugs,” he said. “If I had a chance to do it over again, I would never do drugs. If anyone reads this article, I hope they never do drugs.”
Contact Beth Velliquette at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 252-329-9566.