Girlfriend Feared for Life

TIMES STAFF WRITER

She wants to believe his story about the disappearance of his brother, former basketball star Bison Dele, and two others off Tahiti.

But after nearly a month spent agonizing over Miles Dabord's version of events, and learning more about the allegations he was facing when he apparently committed suicide, Erica Wiese has come to interpret her former boyfriend's actions as those of someone "acting in survival mode."

In her first extended interview since reporting Dabord's account to the FBI on Sept. 10, Wiese, 31, said she wants to clarify her involvement with Dabord and let people know, "that I have told everything I know about this; I'm an open book."

"I think he was in a fight with [Dele] that ended ugly," Wiese said by telephone from her home in Northern California late Tuesday night. "Did he say to himself, 'I've got witnesses, now I have to take care of them?' Probably. Why the gold? I think he was going to do what he could to escape.... Once he gave up on that, he overdosed."

Law enforcement officials believe Dabord killed his brother, along with Dele's girlfriend, Serena Kaplan, and boat captain Bertrand Saldo, while at sea on July 7. The next day, Dabord met Wiese on the island of Moorea, near Tahiti, and he was with her until she returned home on July 15.

Dabord, also known as Kevin Williams (his brother's given name was Brian Williams, which is what he went by for much of his eight-year career in the NBA) died at a hospital in Chula Vista, Calif., last week after being taken off a respirator. He was found, comatose and nearly naked, in Mexico and was transported to the U.S. on Sept. 15. His mother, Patricia Phillips, said Dabord died as the result of an insulin overdose combined with his not taking asthma medication.

While the FBI and authorities in French Polynesia wanted to question him about the disappearances on his brother's boat, Dabord was also being hunted by Phoenix police for skipping bail in connection with his allegedly trying to buy $152,000 in gold using his brother's identification as his own on Sept 5.

Wiese said Dabord showed up at the Bay Area high-tech company where she works on Sept. 6, telling her of his failed gold purchase and the reason he attempted it.

"At first, he said, 'I came to tell you I'm leaving, I'm in trouble,' " Wiese said. "Then he said, 'I need to help Bison out, he's in trouble. It's about a missing person; there's been an accident and I need to get Bison money--gold, because it's the portable currency.' "

Wiese said Dabord confided that Karlan had died--and that he was considering suicide because of how the failed gold purchase would make him appear guilty once her death was discovered.

Dabord, Wiese added, was fearful that he was being followed by law enforcement officials and wanted to stay in a Bay Area hotel that night, then drive to Mexico the next day to obtain, "medicine you can't get here."

On the morning of Sept. 7, Wiese said she and Dabord awoke in the hotel room and cried together for more than an hour. She sobbed while retelling the story: "When you've got a man crying in your arms, telling you he wants to spend the last hours of his life with you.... I just wanted to be there for him. We were in love."

They drove to a motel in San Ysidro, Calif., near the Mexican border, where Dabord detailed his account of the three deaths that evening. Wiese said she awoke the next morning, Sept. 8, fearful that she might be in danger because of her knowledge about the deaths.

"I just want to go home," Wiese told Dabord. "I know too much."

She then drove back to Palo Alto, taking a call from Dabord to her cell phone along the way. He had crossed into Mexico. That was the last she said she heard from him.

That night, she said she slept on her couch--a knife and a telephone within arm's reach.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about a scenario where Miles would be saying to himself, 'Holy ..., I've told someone about this, I have to take care of it,' " Wiese said. "That's why I slept with the knife. It was a worst-case scenario."

The FBI does not consider Wiese an accomplice to Dabord, but others, including Kevin Porter, Dele's personal assistant, regard her as a potentially key witness.

"From July 8, when Erica arrived in Tahiti to vacation with Miles, to Sept. 7, when she has said Miles told her exactly what happened, that's about 60 days," Porter said. "You're trying to tell me Miles didn't say anything about this to her between then? This is what keeps me up at night."

Wiese said this was Dabord's account of what happened on the boat: He and Bison were fighting--a combination of past frictions--when Karlan was fatally injured while trying to intercede. Saldo was killed by Dele because the captain wanted to report Karlan's death to authorities. The fight with Dele continued after Saldo was killed, leading Dabord to shoot and kill Dele in self-defense. Dabord said he then weighted the three bodies and dumped them overboard.

"I just listened," Wiese said, "in shock."

Wiese repeated Dabord's account to a Sonoma County sheriff on the night of Sept. 9. At first, she said, the detective asked, "Can this wait until tomorrow?" She said it couldn't.

Later, she got a call back. "Yeah, this checks out," she was told. "The FBI wants to talk to you."

French Polynesian authorities still do. While waiting for analysis on possible blood stains and hull damage from Dele's boat--results aren't expected back for two weeks--they have asked the U.S. Department of Justice for permission to interview Wiese later this month.

Wiese met Dabord through mutual friends about two years ago. "I liked several qualities about him," she said. "He was extremely intelligent and intriguing; he knew a lot about the world and he had a good sense of humor. I've seen a lot of articles about Miles, and some have painted him as a monster. The Miles I knew was soft-spoken, fun to be around, a teddy bear."

But she has also learned that something Dabord often said--that he was a partner with Dele in several holding companies--was untrue. Wiese said she has concluded Dabord was unemployed.

"We did argue quite a bit over the fact that I didn't think he was doing a lot with himself," Wiese said.

Dabord was living in San Francisco in January when he informed Wiese of his plans to join Dele in New Zealand.

"It took him a while to find Bison, about three weeks, but Miles had told me he wanted it to work out with Bison, because he had no other family," Wiese said.

Dabord stayed into April, upsetting Wiese, especially as he reported "constant quarrels with Bison."

"I'd ask him how Bison was and Miles would say his moods changed a lot," Wiese said. "He told me Bison was smoking pot every day. It just sounded like they were both going through mood swings. They were both extremely intelligent, extremely opinionated and unconventional in their thinking. You could see how they'd clash."

Dabord returned to the Bay Area in April for two weeks, living with Wiese. He informed her he'd be going back to New Zealand for a sail to Tahiti. She resisted the idea, but Dabord said he'd pay for her to join him once he reached the French Polynesian islands.

Wiese said she booked her vacation at Tahiti's neighboring island, Moorea, nearly a month before her July 8 arrival. She said her last conversation with Dabord before leaving the Bay Area was on July 5, a talk she said revolved around where they would meet in Moorea.

Wiese said she met Dabord at a resort on the island, spotting him as he rode a personal watercraft that was usually attached to Dele's boat. The boat, she said, was docked two coves over. They spent only one night aboard the boat.

Wiese said when she asked where Dele, Karlan and Saldo were, Dabord told her Dele and Karlan were on another island, Raiatea, that was a three-day sail away. Saldo, he said, was busy with friends in Moorea.

"I didn't have a desire to meet Bison," Wiese said. "From Miles' point of view, it sounded like Bison was treating Miles [poorly]. Miles even said to me once, 'If I ever keep going on and on and on to make a point, please stop me--because that's what Bison does.' "

Meanwhile, Wiese and Dabord were having their own problems. She said four days into the trip Dabord said he wanted to break up, declaring, "we have nothing in common."

"I felt like what was happening with us was only because of things he was directing at me," Wiese said. "We had been separated for about six months. He was a bit more distant than usual. I had the sense he had other things on his mind, like he didn't care if he spent time with me.

"We got in a big argument. That broke my heart. But I had no reason to question his behavior on anything else. If he was acting different, I thought it was only because of us."

The FBI has interviewed a woman Dabord sailed with in New Zealand. He placed a six-minute phone call to her from the boat at 3:58 p.m. on July 7. A law enforcement official said the details of the conversation were "routine."

Wiese said she asked Dabord if he had been unfaithful to her during the trip. She was told no. "But don't think I didn't think about it," she said.

Yet Wiese said her trip to Moorea ended July 15 on an encouraging note, with Dabord telling her, "We just need to start over."

She returned home without him--Dabord said he had to repair the water-logged personal watercraft--but he was back with her in the Bay Area by July 20.

Wiese said Dabord reverted to "acting like a dream boyfriend." But that behavior was short-lived too.

Wiese said Dabord was frequently using the Internet and talking of buying his own business. Most troubling to Wiese was Dabord's heavy beer drinking.

Said Wiese: "I asked him why he was drinking so much, and he said, 'You don't know the stress I'm under. I'm trying to find out what to do with the rest of my life.' "

She knows that kind of stress now.

"This has emotionally screwed me up," Wiese said. "I don't want to be out here trying to explain this. I've lost a person I cared about. I've been lied to. I've got a lot of baggage with this. And what makes me upset is to hear people say they think I'm holding things back. I wanted to stand by my man. I'll always love him. But I also have to consider the things I've been told.

"That's why I ask myself: Was I a sucker?"

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