Before they give running back Eric Bieniemy the football, the Chargers might want to ask for his car keys.
Bieniemy, Colorado's all-time scoring and rushing leader, arrived Monday in San Diego after being selected in Round 2 of the NFL draft a day earlier, then tried to explain why the police want him as badly as the Chargers.
A bench warrant has been issued in Colorado for Bieniemy's arrest for failing to appear in Garfield Associate County Court on charges of driving with a suspended license and for speeding.
"It was a mix-up in court dates," Bieniemy said.
This latest scrape with the law, however, has nothing to do with Bieniemy's May 1 pretrial conference in Boulder on charges of leaving the scene of an accident.
"That, too, was also a misunderstanding," a smiling Bieniemy said.
It should also not be confused with the three previous traffic violations that led to the suspension of his driving privileges or his plea of no contest to charges of interfering with a firefighter on duty last July 4.
"That was another odd incident that happened," Bieniemy said.
And that business about pleading no contest to disorderly conduct charges for a barroom brawl--that's old news.
"That was another unfortunate mishap," Bieniemy said.
Aurora assistant city attorney Mike Hyman, however, told the Rocky Mountain News in Denver that Bieniemy's most recent problems with the law might jeopardize the eight-month deferred judgment he received in September for interfering with a firefighter.
"Does that make him a bad player?" said Coach Dan Henning.
General Manager Bobby Beathard said the Chargers did their homework on Bieniemy before the draft, and he said this is one fine young man.
However, trouble pursues Bieniemy like a hyperactive linebacker.
It began his freshman year at CU when he responded to a racial slur in a bar by becoming embroiled in a fight.
A year later, Bieniemy was ticketed in Westminster, Colo., for driving a defective vehicle and received two points on his driving record. Drivers in Colorado are allowed eight points on their driving records before their driving privileges are suspended.
Three months later Bieniemy was ticketed in Aurora for speeding and four more points were added to his record. An improper left turn in October last year resulted in another ticket, three points and the suspension of his license. His license was to remain suspended until this October.
On March 21, however, he was stopped on I-70 outside Rifle, Colo., going 92 m.p.h. in a 65 m.p.h. zone.
"I thought it was 84 m.p.h. or something," Bieniemy said. "I was coming out to California on spring break."
Kathy Schouten, the clerk of Garfield Associate County Court, said Bieniemy will have to post a $1,000 bond to free himself from the bench warrant, and then still will have to answer charges of driving with a suspended license and speeding.
"He was summoned to appear on April 10 and called and said he had no way of getting here and was granted a continuance to April 17," Schouten said. "He failed to appear. It's a mandatory appearance; it can't be handled just through the mail."
Bieniemy said his Denver-based lawyer, Richard Myers, was handling the matter for him. "If you have any questions, call him," he said.
Myers' secretary said he was out of town and unavailable for comment.
"No attorney has been in contact with us," Schouten said.
Bieniemy's mother, Fern St. Cyr, acknowledged her son's license had been suspended but was upset with the attention afforded to the bench warrant that was issued April 17.
"His attorney has seen about it," she said. "I don't know why it got out or what's going on. You know how the press is here (in Denver). Whenever something happens with Eric, it's faxed all over the nation."
Bieniemy faces 10 to 90 days in jail, fines of $10 to $300 and 12 additional points added to his driving record if he's found guilty of leaving the scene of an accident.
"I thought once you exchanged information you could leave the scene," he said. "I went home and reported it to the police and then they arrested me for leaving the scene."
Bieniemy reportedly told the police he was only a passenger in his friend's car at the time of the accident, but the driver of the other car identified Bieniemy as the driver.
"Are you thinking of getting a chauffeur?" asked a reporter after listening to Bieniemy's driving escapades.
"That's cold," Bieniemy said. "That's cold."
Bieniemy, however, might be headed for more hot water.
Last July 4, firefighters responded to a call at the home of Bieniemy's mother in Aurora. Bieniemy allegedly identified himself to authorities as his brother after allegedly throwing a forearm into a firefighter.
"My little brother had put some fireworks in a plastic bag, and so the fire started and we put it out," Bieniemy said. "Since the fire was next to the wall, they thought it was electrical. I said, 'Excuse me, sir, the fire started in the trash bag.'
"I feel that if somebody is going to tear down your wall you should stop them. But basically I interfered with fire department policy.
"There was no contact whatsoever. If you check it out, there was no contact. Look at the charges."
Bieniemy pleaded no contest to the charge of interfering with a firefighter, and charges of harassment and providing false information were dismissed.
Judgment was deferred, and Bieniemy was instructed to do 40 hours of community service and attend an eight-hour firefighting training session.
Bieniemy, however, said the firefighting training session was "an option. That was optional," and he said he chose not to do it.
But Hyman, Aurora's assistant city attorney, said it was not optional. It was one of the stipulations he agreed to when he pleaded no contest. He said Bieniemy's case will be reviewed in May, and the results of the other charges might impact the outcome.
Bieniemy was suspended for Colorado's season opener by Coach Bill McCartney because of his problem with the Aurora fire department, and the organizers of the Doak Walker Award would not allow Bieniemy's name to appear on the ballot for the selection of the nation's top running back.
"Eric has experienced problems that cast serious doubts regarding his citizenship," wrote Walker Sterring Committee chairman, William Lively, in a letter to CU.
Bieniemy went on to finish third in the voting for the Heisman Trophy and gained 1,628 yards last season with a 5.7-yard average.
"I've had a lot of ups and downs since I've been in college," Bieniemy said. "Maybe more downs that ups. I'm growing. I'm developing. I'm a young man, and you learn through bad events how to become a good person.
"When I got to the plane today, I said to myself, 'Oh, God, they're (reporters) are going to eat me up today. I better be ready."
He was. He took on all questions and had an answer for each one.
"I'm a good person," he said. "I can understand the impression some people will have because that's the impression I'd get, too. But I feel once everybody gets to know me, everybody's opinion will change."
The Chargers like what they see. He fumbled 21 times in his career but remained highly productive. They have a 5-foot-7 running back who can cover 40 yards in 4.45 seconds and bench-press 330 pounds.
"When he was recruited out of high school (quarterbacks coach) Ted Tollner tried to recruit him at USC, and Ted said he was one of the most quality kids he ever went after," Henning said. "My son has had two wrecks since we came to San Diego and he's a pretty good kid.
"I'm not worried . . . I've had guys here who spit on sportswriters. I think this is a good pick. I don't think you can ever be caught without enough good running backs. And this is a good one."
CHARGERS' DRAFT: DAY 2
A look at 10 more players the Chargers picked up on the second day of the NFL draft. C2
CHARGERS' DAY 2 PICKS
DUANE YOUNG: Round 5
Tight End, Michigan State: 6-1, 276
Likened to Charger tight end Arthur Cox. Pro Football Weekly draft observer Joel Buchsbaum on Young: "Cannot run for distance; seems to die after 20 yards." That's Arthur Cox, all right. Billy Devaney, Charger director of player personnel, however, said Young has been unfairly criticized. "A lot of teams told him he was projected as a guard and he bulked up to 280. He'll play at 265 and he's an outstanding blocker." Caught 34 passes during his collegiate career and scored one touchdown. Said General Manager Bobby Beathard: "He's the best blocking tight end I've seen come out of college."
FLOYD FIELDS: Round 5
Safety, Arizona State: 6-0, 208
Beathard traded next year's fourth-round pick and this year's 11th to New England to make this choice. Missed five games last year with ankle and shoulder injuries. Ran a 4.63 at the combine, but posted top broad jump mark for all defensive backs with leap of 10-5. "He's a terrific athlete," Beathard said. "He's not a 4.38 40-guy, but he's under 4.5. He's a big guy with a lot of speed, and he'll play strong safety here."
JIMMY LAISTER: Round 6
Offensive Tackle, Oregon Tech: 6-4, 300
Attended same college outpost as Chargers' wide receiver Nate Lewis, who was taken in seventh round last year. Buchsbaum on Laister: "Overweight developmental prospect." Failed to gain academic entry to Auburn. "I really like the kid," Beathard said. "He looks like he's been very well trained. I don't know where you rate a guy like Laister. Maybe we could have gotten him in the 12th round. We liked him." The Raiders, Rams and Seahawks had shown interest in him.
DAVE JONES: Round 7
Wide Receiver, Delaware State: 6-3, 219
Former tight end who caught 53 passes and averaged 19.8 yards a reception in move to wideout in senior season. Ran a 4.55 at the combine. "He's green, but he gives us deep speed," Beathard said. "I have a feeling about this kid. This kid can develop into a real good receiver."
TERRY BEAUFORD: Round 7
Offensive Guard, Florida A&M;: 6-1 1/2, 281
Deep snapper to compete with Mark Rodenhauser. Played left tackle for the Rattlers, but size restricts him to guard in NFL. "He's a terrific deep snapper and has the foot quickness to develop into a good pass protecter," Beathard said. "He's got a lot of bulk and is hard to move."
ANDY KATOA: Round 9
Linebacker, Southern Oregon State: 6-2, 238
Flunked out of BYU and dominated play at SOS. School officials planned a press conference on the 50-yard line to celebrate his selection. Beathard's son, running back Jeff Beathard, was the last player taken in the 1988 draft and the first player ever selected out of Southern Oregon. "It's kind of a shot in the dark," Beathard said. "Andy said a lot of teams called to ask who he was after we took him. I told him now it's up to him to prove we're right."
ROLAND POLES: Round 10
Fullback, Tennessee: 6-0, 251
Carried the ball 37 times his senior season as part-time starter. Ran a 4.8 40 and Beathard said he was one of the best blocking fullbacks. Beathard said team will try to use them as it has H-back Joe Caravello.
MIKE HELDT: Round 10
Center, Notre Dame: 6-2 1/2, 270
Started every game the past three years and just turned 21 in January. "He's big and not limited to center," Beathard said. "He just gives us more depth there."
JOACHIM WEINBERG: Round 11
Wide Receiver, Johnson C. Smith: 6-1, 185
Call him "Joe," and watch him run. "We were shocked that he was still there," Beathard said, while drawing a loud laugh. "This guy can really fly and was very productive at that level." Only rumor was that the Raiders were looking at him.
CHRIS SAMUELS: Round 12
Running Back, Texas: 5-10, 198
Started six games as senior and gained 2,360 all-purpose yards during his career. Ran a 4.6 40. "He was a player that in the last month we talked about taking as high as the sixth or seventh round," Beathard said. "He's a kickoff and punt returner and good receiver out of the backfield."
THE CHARGERS' DRAFT
Where Picked: Rd. 1, 9 Overall Name: Stanley Richard School: Texas Position: S Height: 6-1 1/2 Weight: 200 Comment: If Richard starts, defense will feature seven No. 1 choices Where Picked: Rd. 2, 36 Overall Name: George Thornton School: Alabama Position: DT Height: 6-3 Weight: 300 Comment: Giant tackle said he won't need visit withJenny Craig Where Picked: Rd. 2, 39 Overall Name: Eric Bieniemy School: Colorado Position: RB Height: 5-7 Weight: 204 Comment: Police are now talking about his speed and elusiveness Where Picked: Rd. 2, 47 Overall Name: Eric Moten School: Michigan State Position: G Height: 6-3 Weight: 304 Comment: His reaction to being acquired for next year's No. 1: "Wow" Where Picked: Rd. 4, 90 Overall Name: Yancey Thigpen School: Winston-Salem St. Position: WR Height: 6-0 1/2 Weight: 208 Comment: Wide receiver coach Charlie Joiner has his work cut out Where Picked: Rd. 5, 123 Overall Name: Duane Young School: Michigan State Position: TE Height: 6-1 Weight: 276 Comment: Another beefy blocker to clear path for Marion Butts Where Picked: Rd. 5, 217 Overall Name: Floyd Fields School: Arizona State Position: S Height: 6-0 Weight: 208 Comment: Beathard deals away 1992 fourth-round pick for run-stuffer Where Picked: Rd. 6, 150 Overall Name: Jimmy Laister School: Oregon Tech Position: OT Height: 6-4 Weight: 300 Comment: Sorry, that's Jimmy Laister --not Jimmy Lachey Where Picked: Rd. 7, 177 Overall Name: David Jones School: Delaware State Position: WR Height: 6-2 1/2 Weight: 217 Comment: Cast of thousands being assembled to find help for Anthony Miller Where Picked: Rd. 7, 192 Overall Name: Terry Beauford School: Florida A&M; Position: OG Height: 6-1 1/2 Weight: 281 Comment: Gaping hole at left tackle remains, but there are plenty of guards Where Picked: Rd. 9, 230 Overall Name: Andy Katoa School: S.Oregon St. Position: LB Height: 6-2 Weight: 238 Comment: Only other player ever drafted from SOS was Bobby Beathard's son Where Picked: Rd. 10, 254 Overall Name: Roland Poles School: Tennessee Position: FB Height: 6-0 Weight: 251 Comment: Shared time with Greg Amsler, who went inRound 8 to Phoenix Where Picked: Rd. 10, 257 Overall Name: Mike Heldt School: Notre Dame Position: C Height: 6-2 1/2 Weight: 270 Comment: Courtney Hall doesn't figure to lose any sleep tonight Where Picked: Rd. 11, 290 Overall Name: Joachim Weinberg School: Johnson C. Smith Position: WR Height: 6-1 Weight: 185 Comment: This may be Beathard's all-time Rip van Winkle sleeper pick Where Picked: Rd. 12, 317 Overall Name: Chris Samuels School: Texas Position: RB Height: 5-10 Weight: 198 Comment: Ace in the hole, if the law catches up with Bieniemy