Brian Krebs was $2 short.
Last call was nearing on April 17, and the girls behind the bar at Fishtales just wanted 38-year-old Krebs to pay up and leave. He had $6. He owed $8.
Krebs argued with the bar staff until they finally told him to get out. He left Fishtales — the beachside dive where Fort Lauderdale's bikers and blues musicians go to bullshit and booze — in a huff. He went back to his nearby rental in Galt Ocean Mile and changed clothes: from a T-shirt to a taupe sports coat. He filled his pockets with knives.
Krebs came back to Fishtales around 3:30 a.m. By that time, only a few regulars lingered. They were finishing up pool games, throwing back the last of their beers, unplugging amps, and taking down drum kits.
Krebs stepped up to the bar once again and started yelling. Nobody paid attention except one man — Jimmy Pagano. He decided to check on the girls. Pagano, a drummer whose band had played a jam set at Fishtales that night, walked over to Krebs. Pagano was a big man — tallish, with a barrel-shaped belly and a frame that matched. But Pagano was not an imposing figure. His toothy, wide smile betrayed a playful friendliness, not menace.
He didn't think twice about approaching Krebs, and by all accounts, he had no reason to worry. Pagano was a popular, beloved figure in the bar and music scene — the kind of man nobody would want to hurt. He hosted the ProJam music events on Tuesdays at Fishtales and Thursdays at Cagney's Saloon in Davie.
And if you ask any of the sun-soaked barflies who call Fishtales home, they'll tell you that the dark, smoky haunt — rough as it might seem to outsiders and snowbirds — is actually quite safe. Truth is, cops are rarely called to Fishtales. "It's not like a kids' place," says Joey "The Jew" Weiner, a regular. "Everybody knows each other there."
But Krebs was a stranger. He had a muscular build and a preppy air, seemingly too strait-laced to hang out at Fishtales. And for many years, he was that: a popular jock. Krebs went to school with American Pie screenwriter Adam Herz and is the real-life inspiration for the skirt-chasing, f-bomb-dropping Stifler character.
"Tell you what," Pagano said to Krebs, "I'll pay your tab if you get the hell out of here. Just go."
Krebs did not appreciate Pagano's offer. Their conversation grew more heated. Some of the other customers grew concerned. They put down their beers and put their bar games on hold. Weiner, who had been hanging out by the pool table in the back, walked up to the bar. He grabbed Krebs' arm.
"Calm down," Weiner said. Krebs turned and punched him in the shoulder, Weiner recalls. Somebody shoved Krebs. He pulled a knife out of his pocket.
Krebs charged at Weiner, grazing his fingers and chest. Another man, Jonny Eirhart, stepped in to break up the fight. Krebs stumbled back. That's when he drove the blade into Pagano's neck, multiple witnesses say.
"Help me," Pagano said as he collapsed to the floor. Blood squirted everywhere. He died almost instantly.
But Krebs wasn't done. He brought as many as four steak knives with him when he returned to Fishtales. And from the account of several people there that night, he soon tried to use them on anyone nearby.
What witnesses can't say: whether the bloodshed that left one man dead, five severely injured, and Krebs himself near death was premeditated or just the breaking point of a man with a history of violence and drug abuse. Krebs had a rap sheet that included several violent crimes, but despite warning signs that he was headed for a meltdown, judges continued to let him walk away without jail time.
Krebs has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and in a brief jailhouse interview with New Times, he hinted that the incident can't be painted in terms of black and white. "I wish I could tell you my side of the story," Krebs said from Broward County's main jail. "But my former lawyer said that I can't."
Prosecutors will now try to convince a jury that Krebs is guilty of murdering Pagano and attacking four others that balmy April evening. As Krebs awaits trial, South Florida's music community is still reeling from the loss of one of its most loved promoters.
One night eight years ago, a man and a woman were strolling down the Old South thoroughfare of Georgia Avenue in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
They didn't know they were being tailed. They didn't know they were about to be part of a long line of Brian Krebs' victims.
Georgia Avenue is lined with stately, plantation-style buildings — those vaguely Greek constructs popular below the Mason-Dixon Line. There's a Parthenon-like courthouse, carved out of shadowy, gray marble from the state's own quarries. Statues of Confederate and Cherokee generals dot a neatly manicured flower garden. This isn't the type of place where you'd expect to be attacked and mugged — at least, not until September 7, 2003.