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Arrest Clouds Future for Phillips

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lawrence Phillips, former Nebraska star running back and now the St. Louis Rams’ unsigned No. 1 draft pick, could serve six months in a Nebraska jail for probation violation if he is convicted of drunken driving here.

Phillips was arrested by the California Highway Patrol early Thursday morning after racing past a patrol car at high speed while running on a flat tire, then failed two breath tests with blood-alcohol levels of 0.15 and 0.16. California’s legal limit is 0.08.

Phillips is on probation in Lincoln, Neb., for an incident last fall. He pleaded no contest to assault and trespassing charges after reportedly pulling his former girlfriend by her hair down a flight of stairs. His probation, which included a yet-to-be-served 30-day jail sentence, which is typically waived if the probationer stays out of trouble, expires Nov. 29. If his probation were revoked, Phillips would also have to pay a $500 fine on each misdemeanor assault and trespassing charge.

On Friday, Phillips contacted lawyer Robert Shapiro, who represented O.J. Simpson in Simpson’s murder trial, for legal assistance. Shapiro has not said he will take the case.

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Simpson was acquitted last fall in the stabbing deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson, his former wife, and Ron Goldman, her acquaintance.

Five NFL teams passed on Phillips, who was acknowledged as the best player available in the May draft, before the Rams picked him. NFL experts say Phillips’ drop to the sixth spot probably cost him $5 million on a projected five-year deal.

The Rams, who also had the sixth pick in the 1995 draft, signed defensive end Kevin Carter to a six-year, $10-million contract with a $5-million signing bonus. They were preparing to offer Phillips a similar deal, but had told his agent that they would withhold the bonus until after Phillips had successfully completed his probation.

Now the team isn’t so sure it will sign Phillips.

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“He’s a hell of a running back,” said one Ram insider. “But it’s tough to run with a ball and chain around your leg.”

The Rams’ legal advisors were unable to predict if Phillips will be able to play this season.

Coach Rich Brooks remained hopeful, however.

“I’m sure the five teams that passed on Lawrence are now saying, ‘Ha, ha, ha; we knew better than the Rams,’ ” Brooks said. “However, we still have high hopes for Lawrence Phillips. But we’re not going to be stupid and put a lot of money out there for something that’s not on the field.”

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The Rams were upset with Phillips after he overslept and missed a mini-camp practice and team insiders are now concerned that Phillips, who was required to undergo group counseling for anger control, might have deeper problems.

“The bottom line is, Lawrence Phillips has to be a participant in whatever is trying to be done to help,” Brooks said. “Lawrence has to want to have help.”

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Two days after charges were dropped on a technicality, drug possession charges were brought against Cowboy receiver Michael Irvin. C10

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