Aruba keeps Ponson in custody

Pitcher could wait 8 more days as fight investigation proceeds

December 29, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson will be detained in Aruba for up to eight more days after meeting yesterday morning with a public prosecutor who's investigating a fight on Christmas that injured a local judge.

Ponson is being held at a police station in the community of San Nicolas. According to a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office, Ponson could be charged with assault and fighting in a public place. The second charge is punishable by up to 4 1/2 years of imprisonment.

"In this system, he is being suspected of something," said Mary Ann Croes of the prosecutor's office. "When the investigation is closed, the prosecutor is going to review everything he has, and then he is going to decide what he's officially going to charge [Ponson] with. [Ponson] will get a citation, which will say what he's being charged with.

"If he's going to be released, he's still going to be a suspect in the case. I don't think he's going to be released and everything is over, because he was at the fight. That's a fact. But the investigation has to show what his role was at the fight."

The prosecutor could request that Ponson be detained for more than eight days, but a judge would have to approve it. Ponson could be released before eight days pass.

"There are a number of versions about what happened, which is why the prosecutor extended the investigation," said Ponson's lawyer, Chris Lejuez.

Ann Angele, an editor at Diaria Aruba, said the paper received a fax from the prosecutor yesterday that referred to one of the potential charges as "simple assault," which implies that the judge's injury wasn't severe and didn't involve any broken bones.

Rumors are circulating that the judge might have sustained a fractured jaw, but people with access to the written reports on the fight said the only damage was a black eye.

"There was no broken jaw," Lejuez said.

The fight took place at a beach in Boca Catalina on Aruba's west coast after a group of people accused Ponson, 28, of harassing them with his personal watercraft and operating it recklessly. Ponson fled the scene and was detained by police late Saturday night.

The potential assault charge is tied to Ponson's alleged fight with the judge, whose last name is Noordhuizen. The second potential charge stems from a group of people joining the fracas.

Angele predicted that Ponson will receive a fine and perhaps be ordered to perform community service, even if he's charged and found guilty. He remains in a cell because Aruba doesn't have a bail system.

"He won't be detained as long as someone else so as not to damage his career," Angele said.

The Orioles already have obtained Ponson's work visa and don't anticipate any problems with him leaving the country.

Team officials aren't commenting on the incident until they have all the facts.

"We're just following along with everybody else," vice president Mike Flanagan said. "You have to wait until they go through the process. There are conflicting reports. We're going to wait until all of the information is in."

Ponson's agent, Barry Praver, was granted special permission to visit him yesterday, and they spoke for about 45 minutes. Only Lejuez had been allowed to meet with Ponson.

"Sidney regrets being involved in the altercation and is grateful that no one was injured," Praver said. "On the positive side, he looked extremely fit, the best condition I've seen him in in the last three or four years."

Ponson's contract, which he signed on Jan. 14 for $22.5 million over three years, includes a standard morals clause but nothing else pertaining to his behavior. A club official said there haven't been any discussions about voiding the contract if Ponson is arraigned or making contingency plans in case he's unavailable for Opening Day. One of four Arubans to play in the majors, Ponson was decorated in his homeland in 2003 as a Knight in the Order of the Dutch Royal House.

The Orioles' No. 1 starter coming out of spring training, Ponson went 11-15 with a 5.30 ERA in 33 starts last season.

NOTE: A team official confirmed that the Orioles still have no interest in any of the remaining free-agent pitchers on the market. The official also indicated that the Orioles aren't pursuing a trade with the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Sammy Sosa despite various reports to the contrary.

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