After 15 years of lies, Price 'didn't see any sense in denying anymore'

September 05, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer Staff writers Arthur Hirsch and Thomas Waldron contributed to this article.

High school drama coach Ronald Walter Price acted the innocent for 15 years, until one April afternoon when he decided he could no longer play the role.

Year after year he heard the rumors about his sexual liaisons with students. He boldly faced outright accusations from fellow teachers at Northeast High School. Year after year he ducked the truth.

The strategy was simple, he said: "Deny, deny, deny."

The career he professes to love more than anything hung by threads of lies. They unraveled in the spring, when a 16-year-old girl told a guidance counselor of her 15-month affair with Mr. Price, who is 48.

The next day, Thursday, April 8, an Anne Arundel County police officer visited Mr. Price at home and explained the accusation.

For the first time in his life, Mr. Price admitted it was true.

"I didn't see any sense in denying anymore. Maybe I'd been fooling myself for too long," Mr. Price said in one of several interviews at his Brooklyn Park home, where he has been on house arrest pending his trial, scheduled to start Tuesday.

Mr. Price is accused of three counts each of child sex abuse and perverted sex acts involving the 16-year-old and two Northeast graduates who came forward this summer to tell of their involvement with him as students. The three have refused to be interviewed.

Mr. Price claims he was not responsible in two cases because he suffers from a mental illness. He has denied being involved with the third young women while she was a student, but said he had sex with her twice after she graduated.

For years he denied it all. He denied outright, fell silent and even laughed in the face of endless rumors. There was so much scuttlebutt that it cast doubt on all the accusations.

"In a lot of cases it was just talk," said Mr. Price. "There were rumors even when I wasn't involved with anyone."

Constant rumors

After awhile, it didn't take much to start a rumor. Mr. Price needed only to throw his arm around a crying student and soon whispers of another tryst would spread through the school. The rumors flew constantly and some were bizarre, Mr. Price said.

"I always liked the one where I was having an affair with a female student, and I was gay," he said with a laugh.

Even when it was true that he was having an affair with a female student, when confronted by other teachers, Mr. Price would say it wasn't true, "and then I'd just chuckle."

It worked.

On several occasions, he took the offensive. Twice in the past two years, Mr. Price lectured his drama club, demanding the students stop spreading rumors.

And once, in 1989, after a former student called him at home to say she had told the story of their long-dead affair to a Northeast administrator, Mr. Price went into the office of then-Principal Joseph Cardamone and denied having a relationship with her.

He hadn't been asked.

Sometimes students he was sexually involved with had called him at home to threaten to reveal the relationship.

"One student threatened to tell so often, I finally told her, 'Do what you have to do,' " Mr. Price said. "She did nothing."

The common denominator

Until the 16-year-old came forward this spring to press charges of child sex abuse, most of the young women who were sexually involved with Mr. Price never spoke up.

"Why didn't they tell? I don't know," said Mr. Price. "Why others haven't come forward, I don't know."

Several did try.

Such as the graduate in the 1989 incident who made it as far as confiding in a Northeast administrator. But the young woman called Mr. Price after her confession, and he admits now that he talked her out of repeating her story to police, the next part of the process.

And there was a girl in 1987, angry when her relationship with Mr. Price ended, who told Mr. Cardamone, the principal, that she'd had a sexual relationship with a teacher. She didn't name the teacher, though, and later refused to cooperate with an investigation after talking to Mr. Price.

Drama club

The young women who became sexually involved with Mr. Price did have one thing in common: At one time or another, they were involved in the drama club Mr. Price supervised.

"People like to say I preyed on the girls, as if I was lurking in hallways, but the relationships were primarily friendships and grew out of mutual respect. I never in my life set out to hurt anyone," Mr. Price said.

"Yes, I knew it was wrong. I knew there was a line you don't cross. But when you work with someone -- from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. on drama sets -- sometimes those barriers separating teachers and students come down."

Mr. Price said an illness prevented him from stopping himself from acting on his feelings.

"I never in my life set out to go after anyone. There was no list."

The affairs began innocently enough, he said, usually after working late at the school, building drama sets or rehearsing.

Often, the sexual encounters occurred backstage or rehearsal areas, he said.

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