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    Strawberry found; mystery abounds

    The troubled ex-Yankee star is in a Tampa hospital but his disappearance and alleged kidnapping are matters of investigation.

    By AMY HERDY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 3, 2001


    TAMPA -- The search for former New York Yankees star Darryl Strawberry ended Monday night at St. Joseph's Hospital, capping a day full of rumors and speculation, including the story that Strawberry had been kidnapped.

    Strawberry was arrested at the hospital at 8 p.m. on a charge of violating his probation, ending a four-day search, said Hillsborough sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter. It was not clear where Strawberry had been or how he wound up the hospital.

    Ray Negron, a longtime friend of Strawberry's, said the 39-year-old former slugger was safe after disappearing last week from a Tampa drug treatment center.

    "The search is over and Darryl is okay," said Negron, a Cleveland Indians consultant who advised Strawberry when he played for the New York Yankees.

    "We've put him in a hospital to make sure he's taken care of. He's okay," Negron said.

    Strawberry, who is also being treated for colon cancer, had not been seen since he left the Health Care Connection, a drug treatment center in Tampa, late Thursday.

    Strawberry reportedly called a friend in Daytona Beach on Saturday morning and blamed his recent disappearance from the drug treatment center on kidnappers, police said Monday.

    Mark Kennedy told police that Strawberry said three unknown men forced him at gunpoint to leave his court-ordered drug treatment center in Tampa Thursday night and get into a car.

    "They took his money, watch, ring and bracelet," Kennedy wrote in a statement to Daytona Beach Police.

    The men then drove Strawberry to Orlando, Kennedy said, where they were demanding a $50,000 ransom.

    Strawberry asked Kennedy to make three phone calls: to Strawberry's wife, to the Yankee's drug counselor and to the Tampa treatment center where he disappeared.

    "He did not know where he was in Orlando," Kennedy told police.

    Kennedy said he met the eight-time All-Star about a year ago at the same drug treatment center.

    Saturday evening, Kennedy called Ronald A. Dock, the Yankees' drug counselor who lives in St. Petersburg. After hearing his story, Dock called St. Petersburg police and filed a report, said George Kajtsa, a police spokesman.

    "He was concerned that this might be for real," Kajtsa said.

    Hillsborough sheriff's deputies also received a phone call from one of Strawberry's family members, who filed a report of their own, said spokeswoman Debbie Carter,

    Monday night, Carter said the investigation into the kidnapping allegations would continue.

    Strawberry was arrested on April 14, 1999, in Tampa and later pleaded no contest to charges of soliciting a prostitute and cocaine possession.

    Since then, he has violated probation four times.

    In January 2000, Strawberry tested positive for cocaine in a random drug test. In September, he admitted trying to leave the scene of an accident after rear-ending a car, and driving under the influence of prescription drugs. He was arrested in October for leaving a drug treatment residence to smoke crack cocaine and take the prescription mood-enhancing pill Xanax.

    "I'm not a danger to society," Strawberry said at the time. "I've never harmed nobody; I never will."

    After the October arrest, Strawberry was sentenced to 30 days in jail. He served 21 days and was released in November.

    Prosecutors sought prison time when Strawberry previously violated his probation and will do so again, Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi said.

    - Times researcher John Martin, staff writers David Karp and Leanora Minai and Times wires contributed to this report. Amy Herdy can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or herdy@sptimes.com.

    DARRYL STRAWBERRY'S TROUBLES

    1998

    Oct. 3: Darryl Strawberry has surgery to remove a cancerous colon tumor.

    1999

    April 14: Tampa police arrest Strawberry on Kennedy Boulevard. He is charged with possession of 0.3 grams of cocaine and offering an undercover female police officer $50 for sex.

    May 27: Circuit Judge Jack Espinosa Jr. sentences the eight-time All-Star to 18 months' probation. Strawberry is ordered to undergo substance abuse counseling through Major League Baseball, bi-weekly drug tests during that time and 100 hours of community service.

    2000

    Jan. 19: Strawberry tests positive for cocaine during one of the two to three random drug tests he underwent weekly.

    Feb. 28: Bud Selig suspends Strawberry from baseball for one year.

    March 1: For the third time in 10 years, Strawberry checks into a drug rehabilitation center.

    Aug. 7: When his cancer returns, doctors remove tumors from his colon and remove one of his kidneys.

    Sept. 11: Strawberry is arrested on charges of driving while impaired, two counts of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in property damage and reckless driving, all misdemeanors. He was already on 18 months' probation for cocaine possession and soliciting a prostitute in May 1999.

    Sept. 12: Hillsborough Circuit Judge Florence Foster sentences Strawberry to two years' house arrest and fines him $261 for violating his probation.

    Oct. 25: Strawberry is arrested and accused of slipping out of an inpatient treatment center in the middle of the night to binge on crack cocaine and 10 pills of Xanax with a friend.

    Nov. 9: Judge Foster sentences Strawberry to 30 days in the county jail, followed by house arrest at a local drug treatment facility. After serving the jail term, he is fitted with an electronic monitoring device and begins substance-abuse treatment at the Health Care Connection.

    2001

    March 30: Authorities issue an arrest warrant for Strawberry because he violated his probation by leaving the treatment center.

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