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Mets' Coleman Faces Felony Over Explosion Near Fans : Crime: Device that injured three at Dodger Stadium equaled a quarter of a stick of dynamite, investigators say.

August 04, 1993|BRIAN JARAMILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The controversial case of New York Mets outfielder Vince Coleman, who set off an explosive device near a group of baseball fans 10 days ago after a game at Dodger Stadium, resulted in a felony charge Tuesday.

The charge, filed by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, was for unlawful possession of an explosive device. The device, similar to an M-100, was described by police as about three inches long, about seven-eighths of an inch in diameter and having the explosive equivalent of more than one-quarter of a stick of dynamite.

Three people--Cindy Mayhew, 33; Marshall Savoy, 11, and Amanda Santos, 2--were injured in the explosion.

Coleman, 31, who was in uniform for Tuesday night's game against the Expos in Montreal, is expected to surrender to authorities next week for a Los Angeles arraignment. Bail is expected to be set at $5,000.

Coleman could face punishment ranging from a probationary sentence to three years in prison.

In a brief statement issued through the Mets, Coleman said he takes responsibility for his actions.

"It was never my intention to hurt anyone," he said.

Dodger outfielder Eric Davis, who was driving the Jeep Cherokee in which Coleman left the stadium, will not be charged, said Bill Hodgman, the district attorney's central operations director. Davis, who said later that he did not know at the time that anybody had been injured, drove away after the explosion. Also in the vehicle was Met outfielder Bobby Bonilla.

About 200 to 300 fans had gathered behind a chain-link fence that separates fans from the parking lot behind the stadium's left-field pavilion.

At about 4:10 p.m., Coleman stepped out of the vehicle and lit a small green canister. Battalion Chief Dean Cathey of the Los Angeles Fire Department said the device exploded 27 feet from the fans.

Mayhew suffered damage to her inner-ear, Savoy a cut shin. Amanda Santos, the 2-year-old, was struck by flying debris and suffered second-degree burns under her right eye, an injury to her right index finger and lacerations of her cornea.

The Fire Department's investigation included statements from about two dozen witnesses, Cathey said.

The Coleman incident is one in a a string of incidents that have plagued the Mets, who have the second-worst record in the major leagues this season.

A week ago, a player sprayed what appeared to be bleach at several reporters in the Mets' clubhouse. The Mets and baseball's executive council have begun separate investigations.

Also last week, pitcher Bret Saberhagen acknowledged throwing a firecracker under a table near reporters in early July.

"It was a practical joke," Saberhagen was quoted as saying. "If the reporters can't take it, forget them."

Coleman has been involved in a number of controversial incidents over the past few years.

In April, he inadvertently struck pitcher Dwight Gooden on the right shoulder blade while swinging a golf club in the Met clubhouse. That caused Gooden to miss a starting assignment.

In September, 1992, Coleman confronted then-Manager Jeff Torborg after being ejected by an umpire. Coleman was suspended for two days without pay for insubordination.

In March, 1992, a complaint was filed by a New York City woman, accusing Coleman, Gooden and Met outfielder Daryl Boston of rape in Port St. Lucie, Fla., the previous year. After an investigation, charges were dropped.

But perhaps Coleman's most memorable incident--until the explosive device in Los Angeles 10 days ago--occurred during the 1985 National League playoffs between St. Louis and the Dodgers. Coleman, then a member of the Cardinals, was caught in an automatic tarp before the start of Game 4 in St. Louis. When the machine rolled right along with Coleman in it, he was injured enough to miss the rest of the playoffs and then the World Series.

In the explosive device case, Coleman was charged with a violation of the Health and Safety Code, which can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony. The district attorney's office filed the felony charge because the explosion was serious and caused injury, Hodgman said.

The families of the injured fans have retained attorneys, who said Tuesday that they have discussed a settlement with Coleman's attorneys but will continue with plans to file civil lawsuits if they are unable to reach an agreement.

The injuries in the July 24 incident were the first resulting from fireworks this year in the city, Cathey said.

The district attorney's office has been in contact with Coleman's Los Angeles attorney, Bob Shapiro, to discuss alternatives to a prison sentence.

"It is not (Coleman's) desire to contest the charge brought by the district attorney," Shapiro said. "It is his desire to compensate those who have reported injuries and to pay his debt to society in a positive way."

Hodgman said it was premature to discuss a plea bargain. He said his office will take into account Coleman's public apology and several other factors in working out a possible settlement.

It will also continue background checks on Coleman, trying to determine whether he has had displayed similar conduct in the past.

"Later on, all of that will figure into it," said Mike Botula, a spokesman for the district attorney's office.

Gerald Hunsicker, Mets' assistant vice president of baseball operations, said from Montreal that Coleman is innocent until proven guilty.

"He's not been convicted," Hunsicker told the Associated Press. "It's a potentially serious offense, but he (will remain) on the ballclub." Hunsicker questioned whether the Mets should take any responsibility.

"The incident didn't occur during working hours; it didn't happen on the ball field or in the clubhouse," he said. "It involves Vince Coleman. In large measure, this is Vince Coleman's problem and it's Vince Coleman's incident."

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