Anarchy in Amarillo

Being a punk in the Panhandle was never easy. But when Brian Deneke crossed paths with an angry mob of football jocks, he never imagined it could get him killed.

Camp and King both displayed their predilections that night: Camp for playing chicken with punk pedestrians, King for picking fights with moving cars. Because as the jocks drove by, King busted out Camp's window with his handy-dandy expandable police baton.


She doesn't seem to realize that the jocks take great pains to deny this.

Amarillo criminal defense attorney Warren L. Clark says Deneke's friends and family refuse to accept the victim's role in his own demise.
Mark Graham
Amarillo criminal defense attorney Warren L. Clark says Deneke's friends and family refuse to accept the victim's role in his own demise.
Jason Deneke held his dying brother in his arms. Some of the punks would later attach pieces of Jason's bloodied jeans to their leather jackets.
Mark Graham
Jason Deneke held his dying brother in his arms. Some of the punks would later attach pieces of Jason's bloodied jeans to their leather jackets.

"Yes, ma'am," Elise Thompson says with her characteristic frankness, Brian Deneke's death is all about prejudice.

"I think it's just human nature," she says, pressing for understanding. "I think in all high schools across America there's the stereotypes, and in general high school kids are just really intolerant of differences."

So it was on the night of December 12, 1997. It was a Friday, a week after the trash-talkin' incident at IHOP, and Elise was hanging around with Rob, as usual. They'd briefly tried dating, choked on their own familiarity with each other, then quickly retreated to being best friends again.

That evening, Elise would tag along with Rob while he went out with his jock buddies. They "house-hopped," playing pool, downing a few beers at the homes of friends. Elise mostly chatted with the girlfriends; back then, she never drank.

As the house-hopping progressed, she and Rob ended up in Dustin Camp's car. Elise didn't know Dustin well, but he was a funny guy. Good company for a typically boring Amarillo night.

In the background, of course, was talk of the big fight. So around 11 p.m., hoping to locate a livelier scene, the kids drifted in their cars to the rumored gathering place -- the all-night IHOP, home of fluffy cheese blintzes and caffeinated punk rockers.

Brian Deneke's final hours are a bit of a haze. He and his buddies had spent the evening at home sucking down Guinnesses. One kid would testify that Deneke had just a few beers, but his autopsy revealed a blood-alcohol level of .18 -- an amount that would have got him arrested had he been driving.

The punks had also heard about the fight. Of course, those who'd been at the IHOP the previous week had some inkling there could be trouble. Blame it on Amarillo's perpetual state of inertia. They drove there anyway.

"We were all drinking and stuff," says Jacqui Balderaz, a friend of Brian's, "and it was kind of stupid to go up there."

When Elise and the others got to the IHOP, the lot was so full, Dustin Camp had to park his Cadillac next door.

They walked over and joined about 20 Tascosa kids who were hanging out, talking, running around giddily. Elise switched on her "social bug" self. She could mix with the popular kids even if she wasn't exactly one of them.

Leaving Rob and Dustin with the guys, she went inside the restaurant to sit with some friends. Some minutes later, Rob came in to retrieve her.

"We're leaving," he said.

That's when things started getting creepy. Elise stepped outside the restaurant, right into some kind of argument.

"To my left, there's two or three of the punk people, for lack of a better word. There was this one punk guy who was really, really tall and scary-looking, and he's holding up one of those police sticks, and he's yelling at the group of people I knew in the parking lot.

"Then there's this little guy standing next to him, and I heard him say, 'We can take 'em. I know we can take 'em.'"

John King admits he "flicked open" his expandable police baton, then handed Chris Oles a baseball bat. Oles accepted it, because the punks -- about a dozen of them, including at least four girls -- were outnumbered by the herd of beefy jocks milling around the parking lot.

Depending on who's telling the story, there were a total of 30, 50, or 100 kids there that night. Strange, then, that the jocks speak of the punks as though they were omnipresent, moving in packs with animal speed from fight to fight to fight.

Elise felt relieved when Rob insisted they get into the car. She presumed they were easing out of a scene that was getting altogether too tense.

But almost as soon as they sat down, Dustin saw everyone streaming across the street to the Western Plaza Shopping Center. Rather than drive away, he followed them.

The way the punks tell it, Brian Deneke and a friend were running across Western Avenue with waves of kids on foot and in cars following them.

Oles got stuck in the middle of the street on the median, and some jocks in a red Blazer nearly ran him down. John King got to smash out another window.

Here the stories diverge sharply: At least four of the punks -- Chris Oles, John King, Jason Deneke, and Jacqui Balderaz -- say they saw Brian Deneke curled up on the asphalt, getting clobbered by several jocks. "He was down in the fetal position," says Jacqui Balderaz. "I remember kicking and hitting."

The jocks report a remarkably similar scene, though this time the kid on the ground is one of their own.

Camp's attorney says the punks are simply lying. What seems likely is that so much was going on, no one person could take it all in.

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