Fugitive ex-soccer standout found dead Howard sex case suspect apparently hangs self in London

May 04, 1998|By Bill Glauber and Del Quentin Wilber | Bill Glauber and Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

LONDON -- Justin Fashanu, an ex-soccer star sought in a Howard County sexual assault case, was found dead in a storage garage in a run-down East London neighborhood, police said yesterday.

The 37-year-old Briton hanged himself, police sources indicated, though a postmortem examination proved inconclusive.

Fashanu's body was discovered Saturday morning, said a Scotland Yard spokesman, who added that police were treating the case as a "nonsuspicious death."

Howard police had charged Fashanu with sexually assaulting a 17-year-old Columbia boy. Fashanu was in Maryland to coach a new minor league soccer team, but he fled after he was questioned by Howard police.

In recent days, news of Fashanu's flight became a growing story in Britain, where the player had become well-known on and off the field as a once-bright star whose career was damaged after he became Britain's first openly gay soccer player.

According to Britain's Press Association, witnesses said they saw Fashanu drinking at a bar Friday evening in the neighborhood near the garage where his body was found.

Fashanu moved to Ellicott City in February and was preparing to coach the Maryland Mania team. On April 3, he was charged with second-degree sexual assault, first-degree assault and second-degree assault in connection with an alleged incident in his apartment.

According to court documents, Fashanu and five young men and women were drinking beer on March 24. A 17-year-old Columbia boy, the alleged victim, who also admitted smoking marijuana, fell asleep, according to the court documents, but awoke the next morning to find a man performing a sexual act on him. A

medical examination revealed evidence of a sexual assault, the court documents say.

Boy to take AIDS test

In an interview yesterday, the Columbia boy recalled the slow walk home from Fashanu's apartment that morning. He said he was crying and was worried about possible medical complications. The boy was scheduled to take an AIDS test tomorrow.

When told of Fashanu's death, the boy lighted a cigarette and remained silent for a few moments. "I have a lot of mixed feelings," he said. "I feel bad he did it to himself. But I'm also disgusted about what he did to me."

The boy added: "I'm upset that I didn't get to see him go through trial, see justice. I didn't get to confront him, ask him why he did it."

The Sun does not print the name of alleged victims in sexual assault cases.

The boy said he had met Fashanu through friends and that the soccer coach provided them with alcohol. He claimed that Fashanu offered him a $200-a-day job without any elaboration. The boy's parents worried it was a ploy to keep their son around.

"I wanted to know who Justin Fashanu was," the boy's father said yesterday. "How can he be offering my son a $200-a-day job? I mean, a 17-year-old kid, making $1,000 a week. At 17 years old, you see dollar signs."

Police 'acted appropriately'

Some family members said they wished Howard police could have charged Fashanu more quickly or kept the suspect from fleeing. But the police "acted appropriately. They had no reason to think he would flee," the boy's father said.

Howard police declined to comment on the case yesterday.

Howard County State's Attorney Marna McLendon said, "Police cannot predict the consequences of people reacting to public disclosure. This [death] does not rest at the feet of the Police Department."

Fashanu's career -- which peaked in the early 1980s and ended in 1994 -- was laced with brilliance and controversy. His talents were expected to launch him to the top echelon of British soccer. But when he announced he was gay, he infuriated many in the sport.

"You have to understand that footballers are very narrow-minded people," he once said. "It's the nature of the business. When you put yourself in the firing line, you are open to attack. I know I'm there to be shot down in flames."

Knee injury

A severe knee injury also took its toll on Fashanu. He wandered from team to team on a journey through England's professional leagues to stops in the United States, Canada and New Zealand.

"He was a larger-than-life character, totally unpredictable," said George Peat, an official with the Scottish soccer team, Airdrie, for which Fashanu played in 1993.

In the 1990s, Fashanu's tales became a regular feature of Britain's tabloid newspapers. He boasted, then retracted, wild stories of participating in sex orgies with British politicians.

Fashanu's death made the front pages again today.

Younger brother

Fashanu lost contact with a younger brother, John, a soccer star and one-time host of the British version of "The Gladiators," a television show. John Fashanu said last week that he had not seen or spoken to his brother in more than six years.

Yesterday, Justin Fashanu's former agent, Eric Hall, said Fashanu had called him recently.

"I had kept in contact with him, and little did I know last week he phoned me from America," Hall told the British Broadcasting Corp.

"I hadn't heard from him for quite a few months."

Hall, who had been ill, didn't return the message left at his office.

L "I feel so guilty I never called him, so guilty," Hall said.

Pub Date: 5/04/98

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