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Reported relapse sends Strawberry back to jail

Suspended baseball player left his treatment facility and later tested positive for drugs.

By KATHRYN WEXLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 26, 2000


TAMPA -- Darryl Strawberry found himself behind bars again Wednesday after reportedly leaving a drug treatment facility without permission to take drugs with a friend, a violation of his probation on previous drug charges.

He returned to the facility and tested positive for crack cocaine and Xanax, a mood-enhancing prescription drug, officials said.

It's the second time in two months that Strawberry, 38, stands accused of violating probation conditions of a plea agreement last year for cocaine possession and soliciting a prostitute.

"Needless to say we're always disappointed when an addict relapses," said Joseph Papy, regional director for the Florida Department of Corrections. "Darryl Strawberry is an addict."

Strawberry told officials he slipped away from the facility about 11 p.m. Saturday with a friend named Christine and returned about 3 a.m. Sunday.

State officials would not say where Strawberry is being treated. His absence was noticed immediately, they said. When confronted by his probation officer Monday morning, Strawberry acknowledged he smoked crack cocaine and popped about 10 Xanax pills, Papy said.

He was arrested Wednesday when officials obtained the drug test results.

The suspended New York Yankees outfielder, who is being treated for colon cancer, told officials he's having trouble coping. "He was having emotional difficulties, is what he told us," Papy said.

Strawberry is charged with violating probation by disobeying curfew and taking drugs. His probation officer is recommending that a judge sentence him to 30 days. Upon his release, state officials want Strawberry sent to a drug treatment residence and fitted with an electronic monitoring device.

Strawberry is set today to go before a Hillsborough judge, who will decide if he will continue to be held without bail. He has never spent 24 hours behind bars before, Papy said.

Joseph Ficarrotta, who has represented Strawberry, could not be reached for comment.

"I'm saddened by it," Yankees manager Joe Torre told the Associated Press before Game 4 of the World Series Wednesday night. "People who know Darryl feel for him. ... He's going through a very tough time. He's doing it to himself, basically. That's the sad part." In September, Strawberry admitted to violating probation by leaving the scene of an accident and by driving under the influence of prescription drugs. He told Hillsborough Circuit Judge Florence Foster he was on his way to see his probation officer when he crashed. He was sentenced to two years' house arrest and fined $261.

The traffic charges are misdemeanors and are pending. Those offenses alone weren't likely to send Strawberry in jail.

State guidelines stipulate that Strawberry not be given prison time, given his previous record, Papy said. A judge is always free to give a stiffer sentence. In cases of violation of probation, they normally go by recommendations of probation officials, Papy said.

Under the terms of Strawberry's house arrest, he needed his probation officer's permission to go anywhere. His state violation report suggests he no longer lived with his wife and three children at their house in the gated Cheval subdivision. Two years ago, the former All-Star had surgery for colon cancer and had chemotherapy after doctors discovered the cancer had spread to a lymph node. He came back last season and hit a three-run home run that helped the Yankees advance to the American League Championship Series. In October, the Yankees won their second straight World Series.

Three months later, Strawberry tested positive for cocaine and was suspended from baseball for the third time.

Papy said he spoke with Strawberry about the charges Wednesday morning before he was taken to jail. "He has indicated he's seen the light," Papy said.

About 60 percent of drug abusers, however, relapse, Papy said.

"Unfortunately, addicts have a real difficult road," he said. "It's up to Darryl Strawberry."

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

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