Galveston wedding nightmare

June 5, 2009 10:39:58 AM PDT
It was supposed to be the happiest day of her life, but it will be remembered for much more than that. Eyewitness News is hearing an exclusive perspective of a melee at a wedding reception in Galveston last year. [WATCH: Extended interviews with wedding party]

Thirteen people including Astros pitcher Brandon Backe were arrested. All but one of the charges have been dropped.

The dispute was captured on video camera. As we told you last week, a Galveston County grand jury threw out nearly all of the charges.

It was the first social event on Galveston after Hurricane Ike, a wedding that ended in chaos. Family and friends say they were beaten, then arrested and they shared with us how the nightmare unfolded.

"It's where he's from, it's where he was raised. It's where we had many good memories and it's where we felt safe," said the bride, Amanda Lankford.

It was a picture-perfect Galveston wedding last October when Amanda and Nick Lankford tied the knot. As the reception at the convention center ended, the wedding party and guests moved next door to the San Luis Hotel. Amanda's brother, Cole O'Balle, 19, was followed by a security guard who claimed he had an open container and called police.

"I'm the one that was trying to diffuse the situation and just out of nowhere mayhem started," said family friend Joe Belluomini.

Belluomini and his wife, Shannon, were near Cole and said he was complying.

"The security guard was grabbing my husband around the throat and the officer that had the baton in his hand started beating Cole with it. Then it just seemed like there was just more and more officers," said Shannon.

She tried to stop the beating by protecting Cole's head with her body.

"That's when they grabbed hold of me and threw me backwards. They basically encased me with mace. It felt like acid being poured over my face and my eyes and my chest," said Shannon.

The bride and groom saw more police arrive from their balcony.

"We thought there must have been someone with a gun there. There must've been a bomb threat called in. Something horrible was taking place," said bride Amanda.

They quickly learned what was happening below.

"Such a high to a low so fast. I would have never thought I would have to go into a room and pray for my brother's life within hours of getting married. And then we found out that my father had been beaten also, that people that meant so much to us had been hurt," said Amanda.

More than a dozen friends and relatives were arrested, including a childhood friend of the groom, Astros pitcher Brandon Backe.

The father of the bride, Gil O'Balle, said he was pulled into the melee for simply walking up and asking what happened.

"After they tased me, they handcuffed me," said Gil.

In March, 13 officers received reprimands or suspensions, but for paperwork errors not excessive force.

"Split his skull open, bleeding on the brain and it's a paperwork violation?" said Gil.

For this family, it was a night that changed many lives.

"We can never end with our wedding was an amazing wedding. It always is going to have something that tags along with it: the night that my brother almost lost his life," said Amanda.

Amanda's brother, Cole O'Balle, was not able to talk with Eyewitness News because he was away at college taking summer courses to make up class work that he missed due to his recovery. That recovery is ongoing as his family told us he still has frequent dizzy spells as a result of his injuries.

The only charge which remains is one count of resisting arrest, filed against Cole O'Balle. Astros pitcher Brandon Backe, a Galveston native, will not face charges.

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