Signs of trouble were there, coach acknowledges

Updated: March 30, 2005, 11:05 AM ET
Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Former Arizona State running back Loren Wade was charged with first-degree murder Tuesday, hours after coach Dirk Koetter acknowledged that he may have misread signs that the player was headed for trouble.

The 21-year-old Wade has been held without bond since Saturday, when he was arrested at the slaying site outside a Scottsdale nightspot. Witnesses say they saw him approach the car of Brandon Falkner, another former Sun Devils player, and exchange words with Falkner before a single gunshot rang out.

Falkner, 25, was killed by a bullet to the head.

At a news conference, Koetter said he had been concerned by Wade's apparently troubled behavior since September but never interpreted any of it as cause for alarm.

"I did not connect that dot," Koetter said. "I missed it."

The red flags included verbal threats against two female athletes and two other incidents on which the coach declined to elaborate.

"In retrospect, it's an easy decision," athletic director Gene Smith said about whether Wade belonged on the team.

Koetter also divulged that two players were involved in an unrelated incident last week that was serious enough to warrant dismissal from the team. He refused to give other details, saying he learned about the new situation just before the press briefing and had not had a chance to deal with it.

Wade's girlfriend, former Arizona State soccer player Haley von Blommestein, is one of two women who felt Wade threatened them.

The other was gymnast Trisha Dixon, who told John Spini, her coach, that Wade was enraged at her because she told a friend she saw Wade with another woman and word got back to von Blommestein and Wade, who were living in Los Angeles.

In a phone call on Nov. 24, Wade allegedly warned Dixon to stay out of his business.

"There was no gun involved in that threat," Spini said. "But she was afraid for her life, she said. 'Just don't be walking alone.' To me, that's a threat."

Spini said Dixon asked him not to get the police involved, and the incident blew over after Wade apologized to both of them.

But when von Blommestein's coach learned that she was fearful about breaking up with Wade, the complaint got more attention. Women's soccer coach Ray Leone was told by others that Wade might have a gun and called Koetter on March 6.

Koetter said he called Wade's mother, Patsy Webb, in Los Angeles, and she repeatedly denied her son had a firearm.

An emotional Wade called hours later, telling the coach his relationship with von Blommestein was ending. Koetter asked him to put von Blommestein on the phone and asked her if she felt she was in danger. The answer was no.

Von Blommestein also told Koetter she doubted that Wade had a handgun.

Leone commended Koetter for his handling of the situation, which included the admonition to call the police about any report involving one of his players threatening another student.

"I learned so much about Dirk's character," Leone said. "He didn't care whether he was a running back or not. He immediately said, 'If they're afraid, call the police.' And then he took care of it on his end of getting to the details as best he could."

Wade set a school freshman rushing record in 2003 but played only three games last year before he was suspended for the season for receiving improper benefits involving an overdue utility bill.

Even earlier, Wade was troubled. He told Koetter in September that was wanted to give up football out of fear of getting hurt.

"I've never had a player tell me that," said Koetter, who sent Wade to a counselor. Koetter theorized that Wade was feeling guilty about the improper benefits scandal, which involved the firing of a school compliance officer for using her line of credit to pay his utility bill.

At some point after Wade's suspension, he broke off the counseling sessions.

Smith, who has resigned to become Ohio State's athletic director on April 14, said some healing began during a team meeting Monday before the squad resumed closed spring practices.

"We had one player in our team meeting actually stand up and talk to the rest of the players about that," Smith said. "To make a decision -- you're either going to be a football player at this institution or you're going to be a wannabe gangster, using their terms.

"It was refreshing to hear that," he said.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE