Capriati has record to go with medals

May 17, 1994|By Christina A. Samuels and David Hancock | Christina A. Samuels and David Hancock,Knight-Ridder News Service

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Multimillionaire tennis star Jennifer Capriati was arrested on drug charges with two other teens in a $50-a-night Coral Gables motel yesterday morning.

Capriati, on leave from the women's tour and estranged from her family, was charged with a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge. Her companions -- a 19-year-old "drifter" who said he met her at a party a few days ago and a 17-year-old female runaway -- were charged with felony possession of crack cocaine and heroin, respectively.

The pot bust, which follows a shoplifting arrest last December, is the latest warning sign in the career of the teen prodigy. Capriati, 18, soared to the top of the women's tennis circuit as a 14-year-old in 1990. But she left the tour after a first-found loss at the U.S. Open last August.

Coral Gables Sgt. Mitch Fry gave this account of the arrests:

Two detectives, acting on a phone tip about a runaway and drug use in the motel, went to Capriati's room at the Gables Inn. The room was registered in Capriati's name, and she had been there for three days, hotel employees said.

Police knocked on Room 109 at 11:30 a.m., and Capriati answered. She gave permission to search the room, police said. They found a small bag of marijuana -- less than 20 grams -- in her "personal effects," Fry said, without being more specific. Two other male teens in the room at the time were not arrested.

While police were looking around the room, two other teens, whom police identified as Thomas Wineland, 19, and a 17-year-old girl drove up in Capriati's Mazda Miata convertible.

Officers said they saw Wineland carrying a crack cocaine pipe. When they searched him, they also found a package of what appeared to be crack cocaine in his front pocket.

Wineland told police later that he had bought two packages of heroin in Coconut Grove and that the 17-year-old girl had them hidden in her pants. She turned the drugs over to police after she was taken to the station.

Fry described Wineland as "a drifter, a street person." Wineland gave police a Key Biscayne address, although occupants of the home said they didn't know him.

The teen-age girl, who police said was a runaway from Coconut Grove, was charged with possession of two packets of heroin and released to her parents. Wineland was charged with possession of crack cocaine and drug paraphernalia and was being held on $6,000 bond at the Dade County Jail, authorities said.

Capriati was released to the custody of her lawyer, John Ross, who did not return calls yesterday. She will be arraigned on the misdemeanor charge within 90 days and as a first-time offender, will likely be ordered to undergo counseling, said Dade courts spokesman Mort Lucoff.

Capriati could not be reached for comment. Her younger brother Steven told The New York Times for today's editions that his parents were in Boca Raton, but unavailable for comment. He said he had talked to his sister by telephone earlier in the day and she was "crying a little but OK."

Yesterday's arrest is Capriati's second brush with the law in the past six months. She was detained briefly at a Tampa mall for shoplifting a $15 ring in December. She told police she tried the ring on and forgot she was wearing it. That charge also was a misdemeanor; she was released after getting a warning from a judge.

For years, Capriati's name has been preceded by "youngest." She holds the records as youngest semifinalist at the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. She was the youngest player to be ranked in the top 10. And at age 13, she signed endorsement contracts estimated between $3 million and $6 million.

More recently, Capriati has struggled through career doldrums and lackluster results. She's been increasingly cited as the latest in a string of "burn-outs" -- talented kids, pushed too hard, too soon.

Although an elbow injury forced Capriati off the tour last fall, she later extended the leave, saying she was tired of tennis. Tour sources said she practiced last week at Patch Reef Park in Boca Raton.

Capriati's relations with her parents have been strained. One tour source said she refused to come out of her room when her parents threw her an 18th birthday party in March.

Earlier this year, Capriati had moved out of her parents' home in the Tampa area.

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