Saturday, September 02, 2000

Courtney Mathis tried to grow up too fast

Friends, neighbors recall normal life punctuated by dangerous nighttime larks

By Dan Horn, Dan Klepal and Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Courtner wore a tuexdo at his mother's wedding three weeks ago.
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        Courtney Mathis spent his days close to home. The 12-year-old boy tossed footballs, played video games and rarely strayed far from his mother. But his nights were different. Friends say he ran around with older kids and slipped out of the house while his parentsslept. Sometimes, they say, he drove a car.

        Courtney was a boy determined to act like a man, a kid whose childish decision early Friday morning led to two deaths, including his own.

        The Mount Airy boy was shot once in the chest as the car he was driving dragged Cincinnati Police Officer Kevin Crayon down Colerain Avenue. The officer died from a head injury after he was thrown to the pavement.

        Those who knew Courtney and his family say the boy wanted to grow up too fast.

        “He seemed like he wanted to be older,” said Jermane Enoch, a neighbor in Courtney's Bahama Terrace apartment complex. “He could pass for 16. He was a good kid. He just made a bad decision.”

        Some say the bad decision he made Friday was not his first, only the most serious. They say Courtney frequently took a family car for drives after his parents had fallen asleep.

        Mr. Enoch's 16-year-old daughter, Andrea, said Courtney bragged Thursday about his plans to take the car that night.

        “He was boasting to my brother,” she said.

        But until Friday, he never got into serious trouble with the law. Hamilton County's juvenile court has no record of legal problems involving Courtney.

        Family members declined to comment Friday. They did, however, hire lawyers and an investigator to look into the incident.

        The investigator, David Hoffman, said Courtney's parents did not know he had taken a car Friday. “Emotions are high,” he said. “This is a tragedy for everyone.”

        Some family friends describe Courtney as a “happy go-lucky kid” who respected authority and listened to his mother.

        “He always had a smile on his face,” said Selena Freeman, who worked with Courtney's mother at a Cincinnati bus company. “He was a kid. Just a kid.”

        Ms. Freeman said she saw Courtney three weeks ago when she attended the wedding of his mother, Donna.

        She said Courtney acted very much like a 12-year-old boy, at one point running around the reception hall with a garter tied around his head.

        “He was laughing and fooling around,” said Yolanda Waller, another family friend.

        It was the last time she saw him. At the end of the service, Ms. Waller said, she shook his hand and told him he looked handsome in his black-and-white tuxedo.

        “He was like a big Teddy bear,” she said.

        Courtney's friends on Bahama Terrace say he was big for his age and often ran around with older kids, including a recent high school graduate.

        Even so, they say, he minded his mother when he was home. “His mom stayed on him,” said Tracey Coleman, a neighbor. “She'd come out and say, "Stay right here.' And he did.”

        Mostly, she said he played football in the front yard, goofed around at the swimming pool or shot baskets on a nearby court.

        Ms. Freeman said Courtney's mom kept close watch over Courtney and his brother, 15-year-old Reggie.

        “Wherever she went, she took her kids with her,” Ms. Freeman said. “She was not a mother who let her kids run around. She was a good mom and she had good kids.”

        A neighbor, 9-year-old Nicholas Kirkland, said Courtney often came over to his house to play baseball on his Super Nintendo.

        On other days, though, friends say he would hang out with an older friend, sometimes taking off for drives in a faded green Oldsmobile.

        Victor Murrell said Courtney was big for his age but still acted like a little kid most of the time. Mr. Mur rell, 22, saw the boy at the neighborhood pool almost every day this summer.

        At the pool, Courtney always played with kids his own age.

        “He was a big guy,” Mr. Murrell said. “But you could tell he was still an itty-bitty kid.”

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