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Olympic shot-putter David Laut shot dead at his Oxnard home

The 1984 bronze medalist was killed after confronting prowlers outside of his house in what police said was a good area of town.

August 29, 2009|Catherine Saillant

David Laut traveled the world as an Olympic shot-put medalist, but he never forgot his roots in Oxnard.

When his glory days ended, Laut -- who earned a bronze medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles -- bought a home in south Oxnard, taught in the local public schools and raised a son with his wife, Jane, his high school sweetheart.

About midnight Thursday, Laut, 52, stepped outside his home to confront prowlers and was gunned down, according to law enforcement officials and neighbors.

Police called to the scene found him lying in the side yard of his tidy beige-and-white stucco home, dead from multiple gunshot wounds. No arrests have been made and police have no suspects, said Oxnard Police Sgt. Ron Whitney.

The neighborhood of well-kept tract homes built in the 1980s is about two miles from the beach, and police rarely are called there for violent crime, Whitney said.

"I consider it a good area of town," the police sergeant said.

Neighbors and colleagues on Friday were reeling at the news that Laut, a 6-foot-3 "gentle giant," had been taken from them.

"It was an honor to know him," said Carter Laurie, Laut's next-door neighbor, wiping away tears. "He was a local boy who did well and came back to share his talents with the community."

Laurie said he had gone to bed early with a cold. But his wife heard three shots about midnight. The couple dismissed the disturbance as firecrackers until police arrived a few minutes later, Laurie said.

Laut had insisted that his wife stay inside while he checked on some noise in the yard, Laurie said he was told by Laut's mother-in-law.

Laut's wife "heard him say, 'What the hell are you doing here?' and then she heard 'bang, bang, bang,' " Laurie said.

Laut was athletic director at nearby Hueneme High School, a post he took a year ago, said Principal Adrian Palazuelos. Before that, he served for eight years as track coach at Hueneme High, and then left for one year to take a coaching job at a school in Ventura.

Laut's late father was a longtime science teacher at Hueneme High, Palazuelos said.

"His roots to south Oxnard and Hueneme go back fairly deep," Palazuelos said.

Laut had spent several hours on campus Thursday helping arrange sports physicals for students who would be starting classes next week, the principal said, adding that Laut was well liked by students and staff.

"He was a gentle giant, compassionate and student- focused," Palazuelos said. "And he was a competitor like no other."

Born in Ohio but reared in Ventura County, Laut played football, basketball and baseball at Santa Clara High School. But he excelled most at the shot put, winning two NCAA titles at UCLA.

He won a gold medal at the 1979 Pan American Games and picked up the bronze medal at the Coliseum.

Jim Kiefer, Laut's throwing coach at UCLA, called him a wonderful guy with a great sense of humor.

At one Pac-10 conference meet, Laut put the shot in the finals and walked out of the ring, thinking it was a poor effort. In fact, it was a winning distance, but he fouled by walking out of the ring. Kiefer warned him not to do that again.

"Then, he won the NCAA title and he ran over to me and he picked me up and had me over his head and I weighed 220 pounds. He just said, 'Wow,' " Kiefer recalled. "I remember what I said too. I said, 'Put me down.' "

Laut worked out every day in his garage, which he had converted into a gym, Laurie and other neighbors said. He was modest about his past sports accomplishments, said neighbor Chet Thomas.

"I never knew he was a medalist until somebody told me," Thomas said. "He never changed."

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catherine.saillant @latimes.com

Times staff writer Bill Dwyre contributed to this report.

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