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Disruptive Behavior Led to Stranding of Players, Coaches Say

July 22, 1987|MARCIDA DODSON | Times Staff Writer

Two coaches accused of abandoning six high school basketball players in a van alongside a desert freeway said Tuesday that they had pulled over because the boys' behavior made driving dangerous and that they had never intended to leave them there for long.

Sunny Hills High School assistant coach R. Lyndon Boop, 26, said he considered it more dangerous to continue driving with the boys than to leave them on the side of the road for a short period. He said that before he stopped the youngsters had thrown a bottle from the window into heavy traffic, nearly incited a fight with passing drivers and behaved in a way that almost caused Boop to have an accident.

However, Boop added, he and fellow assistant coach Mark Kremer, 21, a student at Cal State Fullerton, never intended to abandon the players.

Indeed, he said, they drove back to the van no more than 1 1/2 hours later, only to see sheriff's deputies drive off with the boys.

By the time they were able to turn around, the deputies and players were gone, he said.

Boop said they considered going to the police but didn't know where the station was. Further, he said, they were convinced that the players were safe, so "we felt the best course of action was to pick up the van, return home and contact the parents."

Riverside County sheriff's officials said Monday that a deputy had found the six players about 9:30 p.m. Saturday in a van parked on the side of Interstate 10. The players told deputies they had been stranded for two hours after their coaches got mad at them for losing a game and for playing a radio too loudly.

The team had been returning from a summer tournament in Palm Springs, where they had lost, 45-40, to Artesia High School.

While one player had said Monday that Boop got angry at them for noisy high spirits inside the van, he did not paint the picture that the assistant coach did Tuesday in an interview and prepared statement.

Boop said in a statement he and Kremer prepared: "A bottle was thrown from the van into heavy traffic. Obscene gestures were made by the players, which incited passing motorists to want to fight the players. There was continuous loud, vulgar language, loudness to the point of making communication impossible and resulting in dangerous lane changes."

In addition, he said the boys had obstructed his rear-view mirrors, and their noise was so loud that he and Kremer could not hear each other.

At one point, Boop nearly caused an accident with an unsafe lane change, the coach said.

After "repeated warnings," Boop pulled the van off the road and gave a final warning, which was ignored, he said.

"After being subjected to this continual behavior for nearly an hour, we deemed the situation too dangerous for everyone on the freeway to continue and pulled off the road again," he said.

He and Kremer considered letting the boys--ages 16 and 17--drive the rest of the way home. "However, due to the fact that they could not conduct themselves responsibly as passengers, we felt that they certainly could not conduct themselves as drivers," he said.

One of the players, Manish Munshi, said Monday that three of the boys had been quietly "kicking back" inside the van, but the other three were loudly singing, clapping and joking.

He said Boop had pulled over once to warn them "to keep quiet or he'd leave us there." The players complied for about 15 minutes, until a car pulled alongside the van.

"We started waving and stuff, and he (Boop) pulled over, took the keys and said, 'I'll see you Monday night,' " said Munshi, 16. Their next scheduled game was Monday night.

Munshi did not mention any bottle-throwing, obscene gestures or dangerous behavior on the van, as described by Boop. Efforts to reach the six players Tuesday for comment were unsuccessful. Munshi's mother, who answered the phone Tuesday, said her son had no further comments.

Boop said the situation inside the van created such an atmosphere of "hostility" that "we felt that a cooling-off period was necessary."

The coaches left the van and got into a car that was following the team vehicle, driven by a friend of Boop's. They drove to a restaurant about three miles west of the parked van.

About 60 to 90 minutes later, they returned to the van to resume the drive home, he said.

"As we were approaching the van, eastbound, we spotted the players with a police vehicle and personnel," he said. There was a center divider on the highway, preventing the coaches from making an immediate U-turn to join the players.

By the time the coaches could turn around and drive back to the van, "the police had picked up the players and left," Boop said.

The coaches continued home and tried to notify parents, but could not reach anyone upon their return Saturday night. They contacted all parents, except one, on Sunday morning, Boop said.

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