Trials Set for 2 Ex-San Dieguito High Athletes

Times Staff Writer

Two recent graduates from San Dieguito Union High School were slapped with felony battery charges Tuesday in connection with an alleged attack on two fellow students at a party May 30 in Olivenhain, as the investigation into violence among coastal teen-agers continues.

Erik John Heipt, 19, and Lawrence Jeffery Penacho, 18, were already facing misdemeanor battery charges from an alleged attack against a college student April 26 in the parking lot of the Von's supermarket in La Costa.

Heipt and Penacho, who graduated in June, are among seven current or former athletes from San Dieguito High charged in three allegedly brutal and unprovoked attacks. The five other defendants are juveniles.

Linda Miller, spokeswoman for the district attorney, said the investigation into the three incidents is continuing and that more charges and arrests are likely.

In papers filed Tuesday in Superior Court in Vista, Heipt was charged with two counts of felony battery with the possibility of serious bodily injury for allegedly kicking Chuck El-Ghoroury, 18, and Brian Giovannucci, 17, while they were on the ground.

Penacho was charged with one count of the same charge for allegedly kicking El-Ghoroury. The maximum penalty for each felony charge against Heipt and Penacho is four years in state prison.

Neither Heipt nor Penacho has a criminal record, but Penacho was stabbed during a weekend melee in February that began during a concert on campus.

Both defendants were star wrestlers; Heipt was the team captain.

Coach Shocked

Ed Wiley, San Dieguito's wrestling coach for 27 years before retiring in June, said the criminal charges have left him stunned.

He described both defendants as decent and trustworthy youth and noted that he hired Penacho to serve as a house sitter at his home during his vacation this summer in Mexico.

"I felt perfectly safe leaving my home and everything in it to these kids--that's how highly I think of them," said Wiley, who still serves as an assistant football coach.

"In all my years at the school I've never had to deal with anything like this," Wiley said. "I'm looking for answers. If, in fact, the boys are guilty, I'll be surprised. After coaching football and wrestling for 27 years, you think you learn something about what boys are like and what they're capable of."

Trial to Begin

One of the alleged victims has a different view of the defendants.

"These guys like to knock people down and hurt them and then brag about it," said one of the victims, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. "The coach isn't with them when they do that."

Heipt, who is slated to attend the University of Colorado this fall, is set to go on trial today on the misdemeanor charges from the April 26 incident. Penacho's trial is scheduled for Sept. 4.

Miller, the spokeswoman for the district attorney, said the misdemeanor and felony charges against both defendants may be joined so each has only one trial.

Meanwhile, a hearing is set for Thursday before Judge Norbert Ehrenfreund over the issue of whether the juvenile defendants can play for the football team while standing trial.

The court order releasing them from Juvenile Hall prohibited several of the defendants from participation in school activities, including athletics. But when the order was issued, attorneys on both sides assumed the case would be decided by the opening of school.

However, the pretrial hearing has been delayed until Sept. 14, with the trial not expected for at least an additional two to three weeks. School opens Sept. 8, with the first football game Sept. 11.

Four of the juvenile defendants are football players. One is ineligible because of poor grades, but the three others--a linebacker, a running back and a defensive tackle--hope to be starters.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
53°