Dirt Hooligan, take-no-prisoners rocker, dies at 29
The Crizzy & the Punx bassist, born Derek Kopetzki, was hit by a car and semitrailer truck near a nightclub on U.S. 19.
By RICHARD DANIELSON
Published July 15, 2003
[Special to the Times]
Dirt Hooligan will be remembered in a tribute at the Neptune Lounge in Tarpon Springs on Thursday.
On or off stage, you couldn't miss Dirt Hooligan, the late bass player for local rock/punk/reggae trio Crizzy & the Punx.
A take-no-prisoners musician, he once accidentally tumbled off stage in mid song without missing a note.
A relentless extrovert, he got in people's faces and punctuated conversations with "Tell your buddies!"
A muscular guy with a mohawk, he often performed shirtless to show off the huge "13" - for his birthday, Dec. 13 - tattooed on his back like the number on a football jersey.
"The first time I saw it I thought of Dan Marino," said Eddie Mullally, who owns the Neptune Lounge nightclub in Tarpon Springs. "What kind of guy would do that to his back? He was that kind of guy."
Thursday night, family, friends and fans will gather at the club to pay tribute to a larger-than-life person they all knew, though not necessarily by his given name.
Dirt Hooligan was born Derek Kopetzki, and that's the name on the Florida Highway Patrol accident report about his death. The night of July 3, Kopetzki, 29, of Clearwater died after being struck by a car, then a semitrailer truck, outside the Bourbon Street nightclub on U.S. 19 in New Port Richey.
He had been crossing U.S. 19 to go to Wendy's, said his father, Bill Kopetzki, 59, of Clinton Township, Mich. He also is survived by his mother, Connie, and a sister, Kristel Aluia of Seattle.
Derek Kopetzki grew up in the Detroit suburb of Clinton Township. He took piano lessons as a boy and went to Catholic high school.
"He was a ham," his father said. "Even in grade school, he was known as the head honcho."
He spent four years in the Air Force, then, in the late 1990s, moved to Daytona Beach and began playing in bands. He joined the ska band Skif Dank as its bassist and took the stage name Dirt Hooligan.
"All the time I knew him I never once called him Derek," said Chris Matera, himself better known as Crizzy, the lead singer and guitar player for Crizzy & the Punx.
The two met when Dirt was still playing with Skif Dank. About two years ago, that band broke up, and Crizzy needed a bass player, so he called Dirt.
"He was the best bass player I ever played with," he said, and his effect on a crowd was electric. "He would be dominating. He worked out a lot, and he was a big guy. He just took control, really."
Deb Matera, who is Chris' wife and the band's manager, said that "he wanted a reaction. He'd push your buttons until he got something out of you."
Word of his death spread slowly, partly because not even his closest friends new what had happened to him, she said.
"He had been with friends at the nightclub, disappeared and they couldn't get him on his cell phone," she said. Two days later, with his truck still parked at a friend's house, friends started calling hospitals and law enforcement agencies.
Since learning of the accident, fans have posted messages of condolence on the band's Web site, www.crizzy.com and friends decided to organize Thursday's tribute.
Recently, the trio had finished recording 15 tracks for a yet-to-be-titled CD, though only three have been mixed into their final form. The tribute will be free, but organizers will sell memorial T-shirts and take donations to help with the costs of mixing and mastering the CD.
Chris Matera said he doesn't know what the band's future will be without Dirt.
"Right now I'm just lost," he said Monday.
But he does like to remember the band's final gig at the House of Blues in Orlando on June 23. There were hundreds of kids that night, and they spent the entire 45-minute set, even the slow songs, slashing around the mosh pit.
"He definitely wanted to be a rock star," Crizzy said of his friend Dirt, "and that House of Blues show was so good that he went out as one."
- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Richard Danielson can be reached at 727 445-4194 or Danielson@sptimes.com
If you go
A tribute to the late Dirt Hooligan, bassist for Crizzy & the Punx, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Neptune Lounge, 13 S Safford Ave., Tarpon Springs. The event is free.