A moment of violence
The constellation of events that led to Travis Williams’ death
Margie Everett has been waiting nearly a year for this week to come. On Monday (Nov. 6), the man charged with killing her beloved only child, 22-year-old Travis Williams, finally went on trial at the county courthouse in Oroville.
But even if the accused, 24-year-old Lloyd Murray, is found guilty of causing Williams’ death during a parking lot fight outside the Chico Holiday Inn sometime after midnight on Dec. 3, 2005, Everett will not be fully satisfied.
That’s because she believes her son, who worked at the Holiday Inn, would still be alive today if it weren’t for a breakdown in the security and staffing policies at the inn. Some of his fellow employees agree with her.
On the Friday night and Saturday morning just before his death, Williams was doing door security at On the Rocks, the nightclub inside the hotel. It was a relatively new post for him. He’d been hired three years earlier as an assistant in the catering department, and over the years he’d held a number of positions, including back bar man and waiter.
Lately, though, he’d been asked to work the door, stamping hands and collecting cover charges. It was a security job, and he’d told his mother he wasn’t sure it was right for him and had been looking for other work. He was set to start a new job on Monday.
At 6 feet tall and 180 pounds, Williams was healthy and strong, but he lacked the imposing physical presence of a bouncer. Others have described him as “a typical college kid.”
Until recently, there had been four security guards at the nightclub, but one of them, a stocky bouncer known as “Big John,” had been let go a few days earlier. That left Williams, a man named Matt, and Brian Dorsey, the head of security.
The hotel’s policy was to have at least three men on security each night, said Carla Williams (no relation), the hotel’s general manager at the time (she’s since moved to Arkansas). That was confirmed by Damon Fishbach, the bar manager, who now lives in Oregon. After six years on the job, he said, and some problems when only two guards were on duty, he’d upped the level to three and had no further difficulties.
But the hotel had changed ownership just two weeks earlier, and the new owner, a man named Kumar Sherma, was trying to cut costs. He had a consultant on staff who was examining expenses, and that Friday night the consultant told Fishbach to send one of the guards home.
Fishbach objected—strenuously, he said. “You go home at 11,” he told the consultant; “you don’t see how busy the place gets after that. It’s not safe with only two guards.”
But the consultant insisted, and Fishbach reluctantly sent Matt home. He was angry, he said, that the opinion of a veteran bar manager was being overridden by people who were new to the hotel.
“Most definitely things would have been different if three people had been there,” he said. “They would rather save $20 than be safe, in my opinion.”
“We always had three people,” Carla Williams confirmed. “We didn’t follow procedure that night. The main reason Travis died was because we didn’t have that third person.”
Asked about this, Sherma said he didn’t agree. It was a slow night, and three guards simply weren’t needed inside the hotel, he said.
As it turned out, however, the guards didn’t stay inside the hotel.
Things were OK until sometime after midnight, when a disturbance occurred in the parking lot outside the hotel’s front door. According to court documents, the night manager, John Johnson, later told police that he’d seen an altercation developing among a group of people gathered there.
Holiday Inn policy, Sherma and Carla Williams both said, was for its security guards to take care of problems inside the hotel, not outside. For disturbances in the parking lot, they were supposed to call the police and nothing more.
That’s not what happened. According to court documents and confirmed by Fishbach, when Johnson saw the fracas outside, he called the police and then reportedly radioed hotel security, asking Williams and Dorsey to deal with the problem. (Johnson declined to be interviewed for this story because he was slated to be a witness at the trial.)
He had no way of knowing, of course, that Williams was about to encounter an explosive moment of violence that would lead to his death.
Travis Williams was, by all accounts, an immensely likeable guy who would go out of his way to help anybody. Just a couple of months before his death, for example, he’d virtually single-handedly organized a large benefit for Hurricane Katrina victims, collecting donations and setting up an outdoor tent kitchen at the Holiday Inn to cook and sell breakfasts to inn guests. He raised more than $1,100 that way.
A junior at Chico State University, he was putting himself through college. Even with his busy schedule, he found time to volunteer in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
He was also adventurous and liked to travel. In the summer of 2005 he went to Thailand, where he worked teaching English. He also worked at a camp for disabled children in New York state and spent some time at a job on a Wyoming dude ranch.
“I raised him to be very caring and loving, and that’s how he was,” said his mother. “He just lived life fully.”
One of the rooms in her pleasant north Chico home, where she lives with her husband, Jim Everett, is a virtual memorial to her son, its walls covered with photos of him and shelves stacked with memorabilia. The pictures show a smiling, happy boy and, later, young man who clearly had many, many friends.
Everett’s pain is still just below the surface. She was near tears when she said, “He was my only child and the only boy to carry the Williams name. His grandfather did a genealogical search all the way back to the 1400s, but it stops now.”
Whatever happened in that parking lot early in the morning on Dec. 3, it left Travis Williams unconscious and clinging to life.
Witnesses cited in court documents say that Dorsey was the first guard on the scene and made the initial effort to break up the altercation, which apparently had something to do with a dispute over CDs. Several people were involved in the fracas, central among them two brothers, Lloyd and Michael Murray. Lloyd Murray had gotten out of prison just three weeks earlier, after serving two years for drug trafficking.
Dorsey, a big man with real security guard presence, waded into the small crowd, trying to end the altercation. Travis Williams, who like Dorsey was wearing a black Holiday Inn shirt with the word SECURITY on the back, followed him outside and stood watching the scene, his hands behind his back, according to one witness.
Suddenly Dorsey was sucker-punched, apparently by Michael Murray. Dizzy, he staggered, dropping to one knee. When he finally stood up, he saw Williams off to the side, lying on the ground, with Lloyd Murray standing over him.
Other bystanders told Chico police they saw a man later identified as Lloyd Murray stride toward Williams in a rage, his fists clenched, and deliver a “roundhouse punch” to his face, knocking him unconscious. Williams fell straight back onto the pavement, making no effort to break his fall. When the back of his head hit the asphalt, witness Jessica Jager said, it made a sound that she described as “bone chilling.”
Some witnesses said Murray either kicked or tried to kick Williams as he lay on the ground, but the picture is sketchy. What is known is that Dorsey tackled Murray and held him on the ground until the police arrived. Murray reportedly was so resistant that officers had to use a Taser gun on him.
For the rest of that night several of Williams’ fellow employees held a vigil outside his hospital room, hoping desperately that he would recover. But he never came out of his coma and died four days later, on Thursday, Dec. 8.
The day before he died, the Holiday Inn held a benefit spaghetti feed to help pay for his medical expenses. And on Friday evening, Dec. 9, Chico State hosted a candlelight vigil. Again, hundreds of people came forth to express their sadness and sympathy.
Margie Everett says the outpouring meant a great deal to her. She’s still very much in mourning, nearly a year after her son’s death. She knows that the person who bears ultimate responsibility for Travis’ death is the man who struck him, but she remains angry that he was asked to go outside in violation of hotel policy, and she can’t help wondering what would have happened if the third security guard hadn’t been sent home that night.