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Shane Mosley comes to terms with decades-old tragedy

Shane Mosley may be nearing the end of his long boxing career as he prepares to fight the dominant Manny Pacquiao on Saturday.

At 39, a fighter isn’t likely to win against a younger, faster foe, especially one who is considered the world’s greatest pound-for-pound fighter.

Yet Mosley has accomplished what those close to him say is something far more crucial in his development as a human being.

He has come to terms with something that happened 23 years ago, offering perhaps the richest understanding yet of the drive that carried the Pomona fighter to world-title belts in three weight classes.

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“You’re not promised tomorrow, and if you don’t even try your best each day, what a waste that is,” Mosley said last week inside his Big Bear Lake training compound, speaking openly for the first time about the burden he’s carried all these years. “No matter what you face, you’ve got to believe you can overcome it until your last day — your last breath.”

April 17, 1988, is a date seared in Mosley’s memory. He was 16, driving his father’s station wagon to pick up his 3-year-old nephew, Diamond Johnson, in Rancho Cucamonga. The two would then head over to see Mosley’s best friend.

“Diamond hung with us every day,” Mosley’s friend, Hassan Abdulrahim, said. “Cute little kid. He’d learn boxing from Shane, and go to the mall with us and help us start conversations with girls. They’d say, ‘Oh, look at those cute little green eyes,’ and then we’d start talking.”

Mosley so enjoyed time with Diamond that he gladly accepted babysitting assignments like the one that day.

It was raining, Mosley recalled, and neither he nor Diamond was buckled into his seat.

“I wasn’t thinking,” Mosley said. “I just get in the car and go.”

He accelerated onto the slick on-ramp when suddenly the station wagon skidded through some gravel on the road.

Mosley didn’t know a nail had punctured the car’s left rear tire, creating a slow leak. The back tires spun badly and the teenager lost control of the wheel.

“We hit a curb and rolled down the hill, the car flipping all the way down,” Mosley said. “As we were flipping, the car roof hit my head several times.”

When the car came to a stop, it was upside down. Mosley turned to check on Diamond, but the boy was nowhere to be seen. Or heard.

“I got out dazed, looking under the brush, there was no crying or screaming,” Mosley said.

As tears welled in his eyes, Mosley said, “Even now, it’s sad. It’s very tough, even if you believe it was God’s will for whatever reason.”

Emergency personnel found Diamond pinned under the vehicle, suffocated.

Mosley remembers a police officer approached, holding the boy’s limp, dirt-covered body in his arms.

“The officer looked at me like it was my fault, like, ‘Look what you did,’” Mosley said. “I’ll never forget those accusing eyes.”

Mosley’s mother, Clemmie, said her son was summoned to an interview with a San Bernardino County district attorney’s juvenile division representative. She said the police report noted that the speed of the vehicle at the time of the accident was estimated at 30 to 40 mph. Because of that, as well as the road conditions and the nail in the tire, her son was not charged with a crime, she said.

“It was not his fault,” Diamond’s mother, Venus Mosley, said in a telephone interview. “Shane has been a sweetheart throughout. I don’t ever want to blame Shane.”

Shane Mosley recalls returning home after the accident to what he said was “a house of sadness” and retreated to his bedroom. His parents were consoling Venus, but his father, Jack, got up to comfort the shocked boy.

“You have to remain strong,” Jack Mosley said he told his son. “It’s unfortunate. Accidents happen. Diamond’s dead. And we still have to live.”

So Shane Mosley resumed boxing, recalling the “charge that would go down my whole body” when he participated in a national Golden Gloves competition days after the crash and was hit in his sore head. He still won the fights.

Around that time, Clemmie Mosley said Shane’s grandfather told her, “He’s the one you should be concerned about,” referring to Shane. So she made him an appointment with a psychologist. “It was just one visit,” she said. “The doctor said Shane’ll be fine, that as time passes it won’t be as bad.”

“You can’t say life stops here,” Shane Mosley said. “I don’t live with guilt. I’m not guilty. But sorrow is hard to live with.”

Diamond’s death proved a devastating trigger to Venus, however, said their other sibling, sister Cerena Mosley. Venus left her job as a paralegal and moved near her parents.

Shane has said of Venus, “I’m going to take care of her.”

Said Cerena: “That’s one of the reasons we didn’t want to bring this out to the public surface.”

Jack Mosley, meanwhile, made sure his son stayed “focused on his career.”

“We kept him moving forward and his mind off of [the accident],” Mosley’s father said. “I told Shane when it happened, ‘Diamond would want you to continue working hard, be a world champion in his name.’”

For Mosley, attention to children has long been a point of focus.

Mosley has supported youth boxing and Little League programs in the Inland Valley and speaks out against teenagers’ driving with younger children in the car.

Mosley’s mom makes at least three trips a year to Diamond’s gravesite at Forest Lawn in Covina, on Valentine’s Day (the boy’s birthday), Christmas Day and Memorial Day, and she said Shane accompanies her when he can.

“Wherever I went, he went,” Mosley said. “Things in life happen that you don’t want to happen. You try to learn from them.”

He says Diamond was never far from his thoughts, even as other events took precedence.

Much of that involved boxing. For years Mosley was in Oscar De La Hoya’s shadow, despite having knocked out 32 of his first 34 professional opponents. His breakout fight came in 2000 when he finally beat De La Hoya at Staples Center. Then, three years later, Mosley was ensnared in the BALCO drug scandal after beating De La Hoya a second time. In recent years, Mosley has endured a bitter divorce and settlement.

“Nobody’s perfect,” Mosley said, and a review of his San Bernardino County driving record bears that out. The boxer has been stopped for traffic violations — mostly speeding — 11 times since 2000. On the opening segment of Showtime’s “Pacquiao-Mosley Fight Camp 360" series, Mosley was shown driving a sports car in excess of 100 mph. He admits he could exercise more caution behind the wheel but notes, “It’s only me in the car.”

Still, Mosley finally has come to terms with Diamond’s death, those who know him best say. Now, Mosley wants Diamond to share his spotlight.

Last year Shane asked Cerena, “Why don’t we do something for Diamond’s love?”

“I wanted to get the family together, to have unity involving everyone, make it a thing with Diamond looking over the family,” Mosley said.

He made a substantial investment to start the Diamond’s Love Foundation to help at-risk youth by taking on endeavors such as feeding the hungry at local churches, giving away car seats to expectant and young mothers and aiming to house foster children as they become adults.

Jack Mosley reflects on how the past can be in the present too.

“We’ve done things as a family to stay supportive,” he said. “That’s how you get through — the family unit. Diamond’s never been set aside. He’s still part of the family. You talk about it.”

Cerena agrees.

“To me, it shows his wounds are healing and he’s ready after 23 years to move forward from this and deal with things,” she said.

“There’s something about him, how he’s 39 and never been knocked out.”

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire


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