Rise, Fall of Darrell Allums : Ex-Basketball Player Will Be Sentenced in Pizza Robberies

Times Staff Writer

For nine years, Claudine Walton has treasured the fading newspaper photograph, a memento of happier times. In the picture, her son Darrell Allums is wearing his UCLA basketball uniform, sitting on the bench next to coach Larry Brown.

The scene is from Allums’ final college game, the 1980 NCAA championship between UCLA and the University of Louisville. Her son played just four minutes that night at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis in a game that UCLA lost by 5 points.

“But Darrell wasn’t the type of person to get down,” Walton said. “There he was on the bench, next to the coach, cheering.”


Nine seasons have passed since Darrell Allums’ brief brush with fame. This morning, hours before Seton Hall University and the University of Michigan play for the 1989 college national basketball championship, the former Lynwood High School star is scheduled to be sentenced in Torrance Superior Court for robbing eight Domino’s Pizza deliverymen during a two-month spree in 1987.

Contest for Freedom

The contest at hand, one Allums is likely to lose, is for his freedom. Allums, 30, who played briefly in the National Basketball Assn., has already spent 21 months in jail awaiting trial. He faces up to another 13 years in state prison.

Allums, 30, has steadfastly maintained his innocence. His friends, relatives and former coaches refuse to believe that the quiet, articulate young man they knew turned to crime. But court documents portray a darker story, detailing how, after a knee injury ended his basketball career, Allums fell into a life ravaged by rock cocaine and robbery.

In a interview several months ago at the county jail, where he has been held since his arrest, Allums said that the charges against him have left him “embarrassed and disheartened.”

Lynwood High School basketball coach Bill Notley, one among many of Allums’ friends, never thought it would end like this. During his 31 years as a coach, Notley had seen his share of “bandits,” teen-agers headed for trouble. But Darrell Allums, Notley insists, was not one of them.

“He never missed practice and he loved basketball,” Notley said. “He would practice for three hours and then wanted to stay afterward. He would play three-on-three.”

Notley described Allums as a B+ student whose basketball potential sprouted along with his height, a slight 6-foot-1 freshman who grew to a solid 6-foot-9 by the time he graduated from high school.

By 1976, his senior year, Allums dominated the court. He averaged 18 points and 18 rebounds a game. With the Southern Section 3A championship game against Palm Springs on the line, Allums coolly hit two free throws to ice a 1-point victory for Lynwood.

Allums won a full scholarship to UCLA, but had to play for three different coaches in four years. He suffered from that instability at UCLA, friends say, and failed to get a degree. Coaches always cast him as a supporting player, never as the star.

Allums was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Assn., but was cut after just 22 games. It was overseas that he finally found a niche, playing first in the Philippines and then for a club team in Pully, Switzerland.

‘Opportunity to Travel’

“I enjoyed it immensely,” Allums said in the recent interview. “It was an opportunity to travel abroad and see another culture. The basketball was competitive and you were appreciated for your talent.”

After 18 months in Pully, however, he tore ligaments in his right knee. His basketball career was over. When payments from the Swiss team ran out, Allums took a job in the mail room of a Los Angeles appliance manufacturer. He earned $10 an hour, later probation reports said.

“I wasn’t really satisfied with what I was doing,” Allums said. “But at the same time, it was a situation that was convenient.”

According to a probation report, Allums first tried cocaine in 1976 and later became dependent on the drug. Allums declined to discuss the report. But in 1985, he had to spend 21 days in a detoxification program. Afterwards, authorities said, Allums’ drug problems worsened.

In 1986, after separating from his wife of six years, Allums moved with a girlfriend into a $5-a-night motel room in Lynwood where the two spent the woman’s “substantial bank account” buying drugs, the probation report said.

Stores Robberies

Allums and a friend then turned to robbing Target stores to get cash, according to the report. On July 21, 1986, a security guard at a Target store in South Gate saw Allums tuck a radio and a camera in his waistband and walk out the door. Arrested later by South Gate police, Allums spent 53 days in county jail after pleading guilty to burglary.

Allums was placed on three years probation and, as a condition of his release, had to submit regularly to drug testing. In the first six months, he tested positive for cocaine four times, the probation report said.

The night after his last positive test, Allums drove up to a curb on 99th Street in Inglewood and approached a man selling rock cocaine, police said. The salesman, an undercover Inglewood policeman, later testified that Allums bought two $20 rocks, handed him a wad of newspaper meant to look like cash and fled. Arrested and charged with possession of cocaine and a probation violation, Allums was released on his own recognizance.

A probation hearing was set for April, 1987. It was that month, authorities say, that the Domino’s Pizza robberies began.

Procedure Described

In each case, a man called the pizza chain’s outlets, usually in the South Bay, asking for a small pizza and a six-pack of soda. When deliverymen arrived at those locations, they were confronted by a “very tall” robber wielding a knife or a screwdriver.

The spree ended when the man called a Gardena Domino’s in June, 1987. Deliveryman Anthony LeBlanc thought he recognized the voice of the man who had robbed him a few nights before.

The customer said he wanted a small pizza. But LeBlanc took a fellow employee to the address to investigate. The Domino’s workers later told police that they saw the man who had robbed LeBlanc sitting outside the house in a Datsun 280-Z.

Police traced the car to Allums. He was arrested on June 22, 1987, and has been held ever since on $100,000 bail.

Allums acted as his own lawyer in the case, conducting months of pretrial discovery and issuing subpoenas for stacks of robbery reports and dozens of police investigators. Allums insisted that someone else committed the robberies, because similar crimes continued even after he was in jail.

Identifications Called Solid

But Deputy Dist. Atty. Frances J. Sulman said the identifications by Domino’s employees were solid and that the nearly identical tactics used in each case proved that the same person had committed 14 robberies.

At trial last month, eight deliverymen said they were sure that Allums was the one who robbed them. A Torrance Superior Court jury convicted him on all eight counts. Jurors could not reach agreement on six other robbery counts.

In the interview before his trial, Allums said that his brief basketball career now seems far behind him. There are two backboards in the jail’s recreation area, but the rims have long since been ripped away. Most prisoners use their recreation time to watch television.

Prisoners do not have access to the recreation area TV in the evening. There is no set in Allums’ jail module, a sheriff’s deputy said, making it highly unlikely that Darrell Allums will be able to watch tonight’s NCAA championship game.