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Dele's Brother May Not Live to Tell His Tale

Crime: With Dabord in a coma, a detailed account of possible multiple murder comes from his former girlfriend.

September 22, 2002|LANCE PUGMIRE and DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

As their key potential witness slipped deeper into a coma, law enforcement officials admitted Saturday that they might never know exactly what happened to a missing former NBA player and two others who are presumed dead in the waters of the South Pacific.

Miles Dabord, whom authorities want to question in connection with the disappearances of his brother, former Clipper Bison Dele, and two others, is "dead, living only through artificial means," his mother said.

Patricia Phillips said doctors have discovered severe damage to her son's brain--injuries they have told her are the result of an insulin overdose and Dabord not taking his asthma medication.

Dabord, 35, has been on life support at Scripps Hospital in Chula Vista for the past week after being found unconscious in Mexico. He had been the subject of a three-nation manhunt on forgery and identification theft charges after allegedly trying to purchase $152,000 in gold using his missing brother's check and identification.

Phillips said the decision on whether to remove Dabord from life support was "inevitable." She said she plans to meet with a neurologist Monday to assess her son's brain damage.

Dabord's incapacity has left law enforcement officials to rely on forensics and second- and third-hand information about Dabord's suspected role in the early July disappearances of Dele, 33; his girlfriend, Serena Karlan, 30; and Bertrand Saldo, 32, the captain of Dele's 55-foot catamaran, the Hakuna Matata.

The most detailed account--though viewed with skepticism by law enforcement officials--has come from Erica Weise, Dabord's former girlfriend.

Weise arrived in Tahiti on July 8--the day after authorities now believe Dele, Karlan and Saldo were killed on the high seas. Authorities in the U.S. and Tahiti say she told investigators that Dabord's explanation went this way:

The brothers were fighting on the boat. When Karlan and Saldo tried to separate them, Dabord accidentally hit both Karlan and Saldo with his fists. The blow to Karlan knocked her backward and she hit her head in the fall, killing her instantly. Saldo, who wasn't seriously injured, wanted to summon authorities by radio when he was confronted by Dele, who didn't want police called.

When Saldo objected, Dele slugged him over the head with a wrench, killing him.

Then, according to what Weise told investigators, Dele turned on Dabord, demanding that he keep quiet about the killings and threatening him. It was then, the woman said Dabord told her, that in self-defense he picked up a gun that was on board and shot his brother. The bodies were tossed into the sea by Dabord after he tied weights to them.

Weise returned to her home in Sonoma County on July 15, after cruising between Tahiti and the neighboring island of Moorea with Dabord.

Contacted Saturday, Weise confirmed those details, but she disputed a San Francisco newspaper report that alleged she was aware of the deaths during her Tahitian visit. She said Dabord informed her of his alibi in the days after he was questioned by Phoenix police, Sept. 5, for trying to identify himself as Dele and write a check from his brother's account to purchase gold coins from a Phoenix merchant.

Weise said she told Sonoma County Sheriff's detectives of Dabord's story Sept. 9, then repeated it to FBI officials in San Francisco on Sept. 10. Weise on Saturday refused to say whether she believed Dabord's version of the story.

Upon hearing from Weise, the FBI opened a crime on the high seas case and pursued Dabord for questioning. The Phoenix police also issued a warrant for his arrest on the forgery and identity theft--charges that were dropped Saturday, authorities said, because of Dabord's condition.

Those charges can be reinstated should Dabord awaken. "What greater price can Miles pay now for crimes alleged or proven?" Phillips asked. "Miles has lost his life and his brother is dead."

Law enforcement officials say they have not entirely ruled out the scenario Weise said Dabord relayed to her. They also haven't found any evidence that it's true. A highly placed South Pacific law enforcement official said late Friday that Dabord's story raised more questions than it answered.

For example, if the deaths occurred as he said they did, why didn't Dabord call police immediately and perhaps save evidence that might have exonerated him?

"We have to consider it," said the law enforcement source, who requested anonymity. "But we don't think it's true, not if you consider all that happened after."

John Steiner, an FBI special agent based in San Rafael, Calif., added, "Given [Dabord's] behavior afterward, [his boat story] doesn't add up. But we're at a preliminary point in our investigation. We have the story. We're trying to determine if it's true or false.

"Our investigation is looking at every potential possibility. At this point, we haven't ruled out anything. We're working on the timeline, and we have more witnesses we'd like to talk to, including Miles."

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