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Westlake High Football Players Arrested in Assault Case

VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Crime: A star receiver and a teammate are suspected of beating two teenagers at a party. The incident is the latest involving the school's athletes.

April 01, 2000|MATT SURMAN and TONY LYSTRA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

THOUSAND OAKS — Two high-profile Westlake High School football players were pulled out of their classes and arrested this week on suspicion of assaulting two 19-year-olds at a rowdy party.

Chris Catalano, 18, a star player on this season's CIF championship team, and an underage teammate were taken into custody on suspicion of felony assault Tuesday morning, Sheriff's Sgt. Steven Bourke said.

The players allegedly beat the other two teenagers at a March 10 house party on Calle de Oro near the upscale Lang Ranch neighborhood in Thousand Oaks. Witnesses said alcohol was served at the party.

This is the latest in a string of incidents in the past several years that have pushed Westlake High athletes into the news, including several hazing incidents on the wrestling team in 1998, and skirmishes between football team members and Asian gang members in 1994 and 1995.

Catalano was released on bail Wednesday. The two team members will be arraigned April 5, Bourke said.

Catalano, who was named The Times' Ventura County player of the year, has committed to a full-ride scholarship to play football at Rose Bowl winner University of Wisconsin in the fall. At this point, it's unclear how the arrest might affect his offer. But Wisconsin officials said they would look into the matter.

Police would not release details about the party, but said the investigation is ongoing and that they are still interviewing witnesses.

The two victims, Kelly O'Brien of Thousand Oaks and Kevin Majorino of Camarillo, attended the party with a group of friends, including several who attend Westlake High School, O'Brien said.

Almost immediately after arriving, a group of Westlake students became belligerent.

"As soon as we showed up, the guys we didn't know were looking for a fight," said O'Brien. "We didn't want any trouble, so after a little while we started to leave."

He said that as he and Majorino turned to leave, one of the Westlake students hit Majorino in the back of the head. Majorino, he said, turned around to defend himself and the scuffle moved into the street.

There, he said, both he and Majorino were attacked by several people at a time. O'Brien said he was forced to the ground and kicked in the head.

"It was like 'Let's get drunk and start a fight,' " O'Brien said of his assailants. "It was pretty bizarre."

Both O'Brien and Majorino are Thousand Oaks High School graduates. Majorino attends Moorpark College, and O'Brien attends Oxnard College.

Among witnesses, there are conflicting accounts of who started the argument, but at some point, witnesses agreed that one or more of the Westlake students jumped on the men as they were walking away. The incident occurred between 10:30 and 11 p.m.

"It was brutal. They were severely kicking and hurting" them, said a 15-year-old Westlake High student who was at the party and requested anonymity. "It was uncalled for and unnecessary, and I didn't want to watch it."

*

Both of the victims went to Los Robles Regional Medical Center, where they reported the incident to police. O'Brien said that he was relatively unharmed after the incident, but that Majorino's speech was slurred, and he received a CAT scan at the hospital and had vision trouble for days afterward.

The party altercation is the most recent scandal to plague Westlake High's athletic department. In 1998, a Sheriff's Department investigation of hazing practices among wrestling team members prompted the cancellation of the rest of the season.

In 1995, gang members apparently ignited a brawl with football team members at a postgame party for unknown reasons. The year before, an after-school fight turned into a melee when an Asian student brought members of a Los Angeles gang to the meeting place and two football team members were shot.

Not long after the March 10 party, the school's football coach, Jim Benkert, held a meeting to discuss drinking among team members, according to one parent, who asked not to be identified. Benkert did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The party occurred at a student's house while his parents were away, said party-goers. At its height, it was attended by about 80 people and had a reputation as being a "football" party, students said, adding that some who attended showed up drunk.

*

Josh Golden, a cornerback on the Westlake team who describes himself as Catalano's best friend, said that, though he wasn't at the party, he thinks the confrontation has been blown out of proportion.

"They were just people who showed up who wouldn't leave," he said. "Fights happen. It's been overblown."

Golden said he recently talked to Catalano, who hasn't returned to school since his arrest, and that his friend was upset that he had been arrested at school, rather than at home.

Further, he said, police likely chose to arrest Catalano out of the group because as receiver and defensive back he is a star player on the Westlake team, which won the championship for Southern Section Division IV, representing Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, in December.

"It's a very bad thing that happened, but I'm hoping good can come out of it," said Debra Lorier, who said her son, a football team member, did not attend the party. "Parents need to face the facts about the alcohol situation."

Reached at home, Catalano's mother, Karen, declined to comment. Her son could not be reached.

Surman is a Times staff writer, Lystra is a Times Community News reporter. Times Community News reporter Maija-Liisa Nagarajan also contributed to this report.

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