Teen's strip-club audition causes rampage

Sunday, December 22, 2002

WICHITA FALLS, Texas -- Clad in camouflage, Lee Wayne Lawrence burst through the doors of one of this town's two strip clubs, afraid he would see his teenage daughter on stage.

It was early -- there was only one customer inside the dimly lit Maximus Gentleman's Club that night, and the strippers were still in their dressing room.

That was when police said this father's love got violent. Police said Lawrence pulled out an 8-inch hunting knife and began slashing tables, leopard-print chairs and a pair of 7-foot-tall lamps.

Manager Vic Robinson shouted to an employee across the room to lock the dancers' dressing room door and hustle them out a back door. Robinson dashed into his office, grabbed the only weapon he could find, a large ice scoop, and returned to the bar.

Lawrence, 41, asked for a drink. As Robinson put the malt liquor bottle down, he glimpsed a plastic container hanging from a string around Lawrence's neck and guessed it was a homemade bomb.

Police officers entered the topless club and Lawrence later surrendered. His fears that Dec. 7 night were unfounded: His daughter, Kera Lawrence, wasn't in the bar. She had auditioned for about an hour the night before.

Lawrence said he never meant to hurt anyone and knew he could get arrested -- or killed -- by police during the incident, which was recorded on the club's surveillance cameras.

"I would do that for my daughter if I could get her out of there," Lawrence told said a few days later in a visiting room of the Wichita County Jail. "She needs to realize people love her. I love my daughter more than I love life itself."

Lawrence said he erupted in the club "to get somebody to help. I'd do it 100 times over. It's not just for my daughter, but for all the other daughters out there."

Robinson, the club manager, said he turned Kera down as a dancer because her identification, listing her age as 18, appeared to be fake.

But Lawrence, who said his daughter is not yet 18, said such bars should not hire anyone under age 21, although legally they can employ 18- to 20-year-old strippers.

Kera Lawrence could not be located for comment. Neither could Kera's mother.

Lee Lawrence was charged with aggravated assault and jailed on $500,000 bond. Authorities were considering a federal charge of carrying an explosive device because they say the container around his neck contained gunpowder.

Lawrence has been kept in solitary confinement under suicide watch because he has acted highly agitated, said Wichita County Sheriff Tom Callahan.

According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Lawrence served nine years in prison for assaulting a police officer in 1993 and served five years for selling drugs in 1986.

Maximus is one of two strip clubs in Wichita Falls, a city of 100,000 about 125 miles northwest of Dallas, near the Oklahoma line. The club is surrounded by a grocery store, a fast-food restaurant, a dry-cleaning store and a self-storage business.

Police say there are few problems at Maximus. The club manager called this incident "a freak thing" but said he planned to beef up security by adding surveillance cameras.

"I've been in the bar business 30 years, and I've dealt with guns and drunks and fights, but nothing like this," Robinson said.

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