Lawrence Phillips, who said on the day he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams that his legal woes were behind him, added to them Thursday morning a few miles from Baldwin Park, where he first drew acclaim as a running back and notoriety as a troubled youth.
Phillips, a 21-year-old running back who led Nebraska to the national championship and then was advised by Coach Tom Osborne to take his game to the NFL even though he had eligibility remaining, was charged with driving under the influence after he was stopped at 2:30 a.m. California Highway Patrol officers said they clocked him at 78 mph in a 65-mph zone on the Pomona Freeway, with smoke coming from the flat left front tire of the 1995 Mercedes-Benz he was driving.
Officers said they smelled alcohol on his breath at the scene. After giving him field sobriety tests, they took him to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Century station in Lynwood, where Phillips took two breath analyzer tests, blowing 0.16 on one and 0.15 on the other.
California’s legal intoxication level is 0.08.
Phillips, chosen No. 6 in the NFL draft by the Rams, was released later Thursday morning.
A CHP officer said that there were three passengers with Phillips in the car.
Two other carloads of people who had been at Pepper’s nightclub in the city of Industry with Phillips were following him, said the officer, who asked that his name not be used. They all pulled off the Pomona Freeway onto San Gabriel Boulevard, where Phillips was arrested. The running back became upset about it.
“He just got real angry,” said the
officer. “Just prior to being handcuffed, he took off his ring and threw it down, took off his watch and a necklace and emptied his pockets and threw everything down. Later he said he was just angry at himself.”
Officers returned in the daylight hours and found Phillips’ Nebraska national championship ring in a nearby planter.
Part of his sentence for misdemeanor assault charges in Lincoln, Neb., was anger counseling.
A friend who asked that his name not be used said that Phillips was with him at a home in the Phillips Ranch area through the evening, until about 11:30 p.m., and that no alcohol was consumed during that time.
Another friend, Baldwin Park High assistant principal Ty Pegone, who befriended a young Phillips, said that Phillips told him he had been arrested after stopping for a flat tire, when officers stopped to assist him and smelled alcohol, but that he tested 0.08.
Phillips had returned to Los Angeles on Tuesday night after an 11-day mini-camp with the Rams, at which he and rookie wide receiver Eddie Kenison were given alarm clocks by coaches. They had overslept on the second day of another mini-camp, just after draft day in April.
Phillips’ legal problems stretch back to his preteen years, when, considered incorrigible, he was abandoned as an 11-year-old and placed in various group homes, finally living in West Covina and playing football at Baldwin Park High.
He made an immediate impact at Nebraska, scoring a touchdown in his second game, a 14-13 victory over UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
As a junior in 1995, he had gained 359 yards and scored seven touchdowns in his first two games. The day after the second game, in which he rushed for 206 yards and scored four touchdowns in a 50-10 victory over Michigan State, he was arrested on charges of assault after invading the room of teammate Scott Frost and dragging out Kate McEwen, Phillips’ former girlfriend.
Osborne suspended Phillips for five games, until Nov. 4, when he played against Iowa State and finished out the season in a controversial decision by the coach. Phillips scored three touchdowns in the national-championship victory over Florida in the Fiesta Bowl.
In December, Phillips pleaded no contest to charges of misdemeanor assault and trespassing and was sentenced to a year’s probation, which he is still serving.
Many considered him the best athlete available in the NFL draft and were surprised when he dropped to No. 6.
“I think [the assault] hurt me a lot,” he said then. “I think I would have been the first pick in the draft if I had no problems.”
He added, “Everybody has a slip-up. I just want to prove I can manage off the field. I want everybody to see that.”
That opportunity may yet come to the people of St. Louis, because, said Pegone, the Thursday incident might have convinced Phillips that he should move from Los Angeles.
“He said this is depressing,” Pegone said. “It seems like every time he turns around in L.A., something happens.”
Phillips was unavailable for comment.