Stories posted are written by National news Journalists, not by this blog.
Our Blog Tips

Coach in sex case apparent suicide

Rick Lopez found hanged in jail cell
12-27-2004 Colorado

A girls basketball coach awaiting trial on charges he had sex with three of his underage players apparently hanged himself Sunday in his jail cell.

Rick Lopez, 37, was the former coach of the Colorado Hoopsters and was in the Douglas County Detention Facility when a sheriff's deputy found him hanged in his cell, said Lt. Tim Moore, spokesman for the Douglas County Sheriff's Department.

Lopez was being held on $500,000 bail and faced 55 felony sex-assault charges and four misdemeanor charges for allegedly having sex with three players who were minors.

Lopez left a note, but Moore declined to discuss the contents of the note or what Lopez used to hang himself until investigations confirm it was a suicide.

"It's fairly unlikely that (it was anything but a suicide) due to the circumstances," Moore said. "But with a death in custody, we always investigate."

Lopez had a preliminary hearing this month in which a judge found there was enough evidence to hold him for trial.

Lopez had threatened suicide in tapes investigators made in July of phone calls between him and one of the players he allegedly assaulted. He also apologized to the girl on the tape about the alleged incidents.

Despite those threats, he was not on suicide watch.

"There was no indication that he was suicidal," Moore said. "The tape ... was made long before he was taken into custody."

Lopez was found at 12:22 p.m. as deputies made checks after lunch. He did not share the cell with another inmate; inmates can spend time either in common areas or in their cells during the day.

Moore said Lopez had been a model inmate and never fought with other prisoners.

The Douglas County Sheriff's Office, the county coroner and an 18th Judicial District Critical Incident Team composed of police from around the district will investigate the death.

Parents of two alleged victims declined to comment. The Denver Post does not name the alleged victims of sexual assaults without their permission.

"This is a sad day for all of those individuals, and my heart goes out to the victims, their families and all of the young ladies that were impacted by this," said Pat Miller, a parent who plays a management role on the Hoopsters and had a hand in Lopez's departure from the team. "It will take some time to bring closure. It's just a sad day that it came to this."

Chris Denker, head women's basketball coach at Colorado State, where several former Hoopsters have played, called the apparent suicide Lopez's final crime and said it robs ex-Hoopsters players and victims of a proper chance to heal through the legal process.

"The whole thing about Rick going back to Day One is that he was selfish. He showed his true colors by ending it like this, rather than showing any true remorse about the kids," Denker said. "You could talk about this being cowardly. You could talk about standing up and facing the facts. He showed no remorse.

"The players wanted a chance to put some finality to the situation through whatever the proper process is. Now, they're not going to have that opportunity."

Suzie Fisher, the mother of a former player who was not assaulted, said it didn't surprise her that Lopez appeared to have killed himself - she said he had threatened suicide to her. She also called it a selfish act.

"It was always about Rick," said the Littleton resident. "He didn't care about the girls. The ultimate act of selfishness is suicide."

She said the apparent suicide saves the girls from having to relive the experiences in court, but it also sends the wrong message.

"It's so sad for them," she added. "What a message to send that if you tell on the abuser, he will kill himself."

Shelly Steig, a former Hoopsters parent who complained that Lopez was verbally abusive in a Denver Post story that first reported the sexual allegations against him, said she was "very, very sad."

But, she added, "This story had to be told. It's a shame he hadn't been exposed before. Maybe if he had been exposed before, his life could have been saved and the girls that he hurt could have been protected."

"It's a sad ending to a sad story that's been going on a long time. That's about all I can say," said Eaglecrest girls basketball coach Sherryl Klosterman.

Added Kim LaLonde, who coaches the Boulder Rockies, another area girls club, "I'm relieved that the abuse is over."

Denker said he will "reach out" to Vanessa Espinoza, a former Hoopster on his team, and talk with her about Sunday's developments. Espinoza declined to comment.

"The kids I have or had (who played for Lopez) didn't have a good opinion of him. They thought they knew things that were happening (with the coach and other girls)," Denker said.

Lopez was accused of having sexual relationships with at least three of his former players, beginning when they were 13 and 14 years old. Douglas County sheriff's investigators said Lopez most often had sex with the girls at their parents' homes and sometimes on road trips.

"We really felt strongly about the strength of our case," said Moore. "We were looking forward to presenting that case in a public forum. However, we won't be able to do that now."

The Post story detailed accounts of four other women who played for Lopez. Three accused him of making sexual contact with them - one was of legal age at the time - and a fourth said she witnessed Lopez making inappropriate contact with another girl. The statute of limitations on those cases had expired by the time of publication.

After the story ran in October 2003, Lopez continued to coach the Hoopsters. He remained with them until July, when he abruptly left the team in the middle of a tournament in Oregon.

Police arrested him July 30 in Syracuse, N.Y., after he tried to contact one of three girls who pressed charges against him.

On the prosecution's tape, which was played during his preliminary hearing, Lopez said, "I know I'm a bad person. But I'm not evil."

The woman he was speaking with said, "You used me, manipulated, controlled me. If you really cared about me, you would have waited until I was older."

Staff writer Arthur Kane can be reached at 303-820-1626 or Staff writer Adam Thompson can be reached at 303-820-5447 or Staff writer Bill Briggs can be reached at 303-820-1720 or ..more.. by Arthur Kane, Adam Thompson and Bill Briggs, Denver Post Staff Writers

No comments: