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Strawberry arrested in hit-and-run

In Tampa, the troubled player rear-ends another car at a light.

Hillsborough County Sheriff's Sgt. Tony Kolka was on his way home about 9 a.m. Monday when he looked in his rearview mirror and saw a car run off Crenshaw Lake Road and clip a sign post.

Kolka made a quick u-turn and started following the 1999 Ford Expedition as it turned south onto Florida Avenue.

Weaving between lanes and traveling below the 45 mph speed limit, the black SUV rear-ended a 1992 Isuzu Rodeo stopped at a traffic light at Bearss Avenue, just as Kolka caught up with it.

"I jumped out of my car and he backed up to leave," Kolka said. "So I banged on the window."

As the driver opened his door, Kolka drew his gun and reached in to throw the car in park. He got the driver out, searched him and was putting him into a cruiser when a passerby asked, "Do you know who that is?"

"No," Kolka replied.

"That's Darryl Strawberry."

Strawberry, 38, suspended from the New York Yankees and already on 18-month probation for cocaine possession and soliciting a prostitute in May, 1999, was arrested on charges of driving while impaired, two counts of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in property damage and reckless driving, all misdemeanors.

He was driving from his home in Cheval, a gated subdivision in Lutz, to see his probation officer, authorities said.

Strawberry was taken to jail and held without bail Monday. He is scheduled to go before Circuit Judge Florence Foster this morning.

No illegal drugs or alcohol were found at the scene, but a probation official left with several bottles of prescription medication.

"I wouldn't say he was out of it, but he kept saying, "What's going on?' " Kolka said. "He seemed disoriented. He said he didn't realize he'd hit the sign or the car."

Joseph Ficarrotta, Strawberry's attorney, said Strawberry was on his way to see probation officer Shelly Tomlinson and to give her the empty bottles for medications he was taking. Ficarrotta said those included painkillers Percocet and Vicodin, and an anti-insomnia medication called Ambien.

"From what I understand, Mr. Strawberry had a hard time sleeping this morning and apparently he must have taken something and must have blacked out or fallen asleep."

Tonya L. Whitaker, 32, of Land O'Lakes, was driving the Isuzu Strawberry hit.

She said he tried to drive around her after the impact, and that's when she saw the deputy trying to stop him. She said the deputy beat on Strawberry's window to get him to halt.

"He had the gun to Darryl's window. He was trying to leave," Whitaker said. "Once the police officer realized who he was, he said, "You aren't going to run from this one.' "

Whitaker was shaken but unhurt and was able to drive her car away. Officials estimated damage to Whitaker's truck at $1,000, and about $1,800 to Strawberry's truck.

"He was very cooperative throughout the whole thing," Sheriff's Lt. J.T. Kelley said. "He seemed to be a little impaired. There was a slowness in answering questions."

Strawberry seemed calm and resigned as he was put into the back seat of a deputy's car. He wore a black World Series baseball cap pointed backward.

Strawberry's wife, Charisse, feared the worst and hoped for the best when she heard the news.

"He's an adult and should take responsibility for his actions, but everybody is going to judge it because he's been in trouble before," she said. "He's just been trying to put it together. When you finally realize you're not playing baseball this year, when you realize you've got cancer again at 38, and you've got small children, big children and a family to support, he's just trying to put it together day by day. It's up and down."

Strawberry has been taking doctor-prescribed pain medication since he had cancer surgery in August, his wife said. He also was taking sleeping pills for insomnia, she said.

"He probably didn't know, he probably had no clue," she said. "I'm just very glad that no one was hurt."

Mrs. Strawberry said her husband visits his probation officer three times a week.

"He actually said today he didn't feel so good and that maybe his probation officer could come see him," Mrs. Strawberry said. "It was a wear and tear on his body. I left before him to take the kids to school. He was holding his side and said he didn't feel so great. I'm assuming he took some pain medication before he left."

Strawberry is the father of three children with Charisse, ages 6, 5 and 3 months, and two older children with his ex-wife, Lisa. Darryl and Charisse's book, Recovering Life, was published last year.

The Yankees declined comment. In the past, owner George Steinbrenner has championed Strawberry's comebacks from personal and legal troubles.

Over the past decade, the outfielder has battled alcohol and drug problems and was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1998.

Strawberry has tasted the sweetest success in his profession, helping two teams win World Series titles, the Yankees in 1999 and New York Mets in '86. In '83, he was the National League Rookie of the year.

He has also seen his career implode in a series of arrests for cocaine possession and soliciting a prostitute, and is under his third drug-related suspension from baseball. In July, Strawberry left a Fort Lauderdale drug rehabilitation clinic after a 3{ month stay and applied for reinstatement to the game.

On Aug. 7, Strawberry had surgery to remove cancerous tumors from his colon and also had a kidney removed during the operation. In 1998, he had a tumor removed from his colon and underwent chemotherapy.

The cancer returned this year and Strawberry was preparing for another round of chemotherapy in coming weeks, Mrs. Strawberry said.

_ Information from Times wires was used in this report. Logan D. Mabe can be reached at (813) 226-3464 or