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Strawberry gets house arrest

He apologizes, is sentenced to 2 years for violating his probation.

Darryl Strawberry shuffled into court Tuesday shackled and wearing bright orange coveralls.

The former All-Star looked drawn and tired after a night in jail, his athletic build already sapped by cancer. His sentences flowed together in a jumble of apology and explanation.

Strawberry told the judge he was sorry for veering off the road and rear-ending a woman's car the day before. He admitted violating his probation by leaving the accident and by driving under the influence of prescription drugs.

Bad judgment led him to try to drive to a meeting with the probation department after ingesting a sleeping pill, he said.

"I was basically trying to do the right thing," Strawberry told Hillsborough Circuit Judge Florence Foster. "I was trying to stay on the right road with my probation officer."

Foster sentenced Strawberry to two years' house arrest and a $261 fine for violating probation for a 1999 cocaine possession plea. The traffic charges will be dealt with at a later hearing. They are misdemeanors and likely will not get Strawberry jail time.

As a result of the probation violation, Strawberry is now a convicted felon, said Robin Fuson, chief of the narcotics division at the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office.

"It is important to know that Mr. Strawberry did not get any sort of break because of who he is," Fuson said. "The sentence was near the tough end of the guidelines."

According to sheriff's reports, Strawberry left his home in the gated Cheval subdivision to meet with his probation officer about 9 a.m. Monday. Strawberry had trouble sleeping and took the sleeping pill before getting in his 1999 Ford Expedition. He also has been prescribed Percocet and Vicodin after recent cancer surgery.

An off-duty sheriff's deputy spotted the Ford as it veered off Crenshaw Road and hit a sign. The Ford then turned south onto Florida Avenue, weaving through traffic but never breaking the 45-mph speed limit.

At Bearss Avenue, the Ford rear-ended a 1992 Isuzu Rodeo. No one was hurt. The off-duty deputy approached the Ford with his gun drawn and arrested the driver, not knowing it was Strawberry. Strawberry seemed disoriented, sheriff's reports said, but was cooperative.

Strawberry's lawyer, Joseph Ficarrotta, tried to schedule an emergency hearing Monday afternoon to get Strawberry out of jail. The attempt failed, and Strawberry stayed in jail until his hearing Tuesday.

Strawberry consulted with his attorney for 30 minutes before emerging from the judge's office to admit to the probation violation. His wife, Charisse, and a few friends watched from the gallery.

"Basically, I just blacked out," Strawberry told the judge. "I made a mistake."

After the brief hearing, Charisse Strawberry said her husband was thankful no one had been hurt. She said her husband is in a lot of pain physically and mentally from the cancer, recent surgery and his inability to play baseball. That's not an excuse, she said, but the past few years haven't been easy.

"The cancer is back for the second time at 38 years old," she said, as a tear emerged from under her dark glasses and trickled down her cheek. "It's a constant struggle."

Two years ago, Strawberry had surgery for colon cancer and had chemotherapy after doctors discovered the cancer had spread to a lymph node.

He came back last season and hit a three-run home run that helped the Yankees advance to the American League Championship Series. In October, the Yankees won their second consecutive World Series.

Three months later, Strawberry tested positive for cocaine and was suspended from baseball for the third time. Last month Strawberry had surgery to rid his colon of cancerous tumors and also had a kidney removed.

Strawberry's sentence will allow him to leave the house for doctor's appointments as he undergoes another round of chemotherapy.

If he wants to return to baseball next year, travel will have to be cleared with the Florida Department of Corrections. Otherwise, he essentially is confined to his home. Probation officers will randomly check on him at least several times a week, said Joe Papy, regional director for the probation department.

Ficarrotta, Strawberry's lawyer, said he didn't think his client would have more problems following rules.

_ Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or brinksptimes.com.

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