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    Strawberry used drugs on spree

    A friend told police that the former baseball star phoned and said he had been taken to Orlando against his will.

    By KATHRYN WEXLER

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2001


    TAMPA -- So much for the kidnapping theory. Darryl Strawberry has told officials that during his four-day disappearance from a drug treatment residence he was bingeing on cocaine with a friend who had picked him up to take him to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

    Strawberry, the former Mets and Yankees slugger, tested positive for cocaine after checking himself into St. Joseph's Hospital Monday, according to a report filed by the Florida Department of Corrections.

    On Sunday, a Daytona Beach resident called police to report that Strawberry, a friend, had called to say he'd been taken against his will to an Orlando motel.

    It was the fourth time Strawberry, struggling with colon cancer, had violated probation since he pleaded no contest to soliciting a prostitute and cocaine possession charges in 1999.

    The report gave a brief, disjointed account of Strawberry's whereabouts since he left the Health Care Connection on W Linebaugh Avenue last Thursday. Residents there told officials Strawberry had attended a counseling group at 5:30 p.m. and that he seemed upbeat as he waited for a ride to the AA meeting around 7:15.

    Strawberry, 39, said a woman, identified in the report only as "Beverly," picked him up and then fired up some crack. "He couldn't resist the temptation," the report said. The pair drove to a nearby motel where five men with guns stole his jewelry. The group continued to get high and bought more narcotics on the way to an Orlando motel, the report said.

    Beverly and the others deserted Strawberry in the room Friday afternoon, the report said. Strawberry said he then phoned a friend in Daytona Beach, with whom he stayed until Monday. How Strawberry got to Daytona and back to Tampa was not revealed.

    The Department of Corrections is recommending Strawberry receive 18 months in state prison. State prosecutors want hard time, too.

    "He's a danger to our community and himself," said Pam Bondi, spokeswoman for the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office.

    Strawberry's attorney, Joseph Ficarrotta, told reporters Tuesday his client should be spared imprisonment.

    "Whether he's violated one time or 10 times, it's the same thing," Ficarrotta said. "It's whether you put him in prison or do the right thing and give him drug treatment."

    Strawberry is being held in the hospital's psychiatric ward, and law enforcement officials said they didn't know how long he would remain there. Strawberry has been denied bail. A deputy was keeping guard at the hospital, sheriff's officials said.

    The last time Strawberry slipped away from rehab to smoke cocaine and pop pills in November, Circuit Court Judge Florence Foster went against prosecutors' recommendations and sent him back to the treatment facility with an electronic monitoring device.

    Strawberry is scheduled to go before the same judge once he is returned to jail.

    He technically violated three probation restrictions, according to the report. The first two stem from his weekend excursion.

    But his third violation occurred Feb. 28, when Strawberry went to apply for a hardship driver's license without telling his probation officer, the report said. His explanation was that the officer's line was busy and he wanted a license to drive himself to work and AA meetings.

    - Kathryn Wexler can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or wexler@sptimes.com.

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