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MORE UCLA PLAYERS ISSUE PLEAS; MCNOWN CLAIMS HE DESERVED PERMIT.

Byline: Michael Coit Staff Writer

Four current and former UCLA football players pleaded no contest Tuesday to illegally possessing handicapped parking placards, but Chicago Bears quarterback Cade McNown's attorney said the former Bruins star was injured and deserved the special permit.

McNown and four others were charged Monday as the embarrassing scandal has spread to include 19 current or former UCLA football players. Two more could be charged, said Deputy City Attorney Brian Williams.

The investigation found that handicapped parking violations have been a widespread problem at UCLA and might have included NBA players who work out at the school during the summer, Williams said.

``This has been going on at UCLA for such a long time that it's hard to pinpoint one person who's been initiating this,'' he said following the arraignment.

``It's been a problem on campus. Now they're aware of it.''

Williams said the City Attorney's Office was not pursuing any cases beyond those involving the football players because the investigation was limited to those with current placards.

The use of parking placards came to light in January after a campus officer noticed a car with an improperly placed placard and questioned the driver.

The five players charged this week, including McNown and Washington Redskins running back Brian ``Skip'' Hicks, did not appear Wednesday before Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Sam Ohta. Their attorneys did not enter pleas and Ohta set a Sept. 30 arraignment for the five.

McNown and Eric Whitfield, 21, of Carson, were charged for illegal possession of the placard and for using a doctor's name without permission on the application given to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Oladele Ayanbadejo, 23, of Aptos, and Larry Atkins, 24, of Kansas City, as well as Hicks, were charged with the illegal possession offense and for using signatures of nonexistent physicians on the DMV forms.

McNown's attorney, Ronald Safer, contended that the NFL rookie was injured in the winter 1997 when he obtained the handicapped parking placard. Safer said McNown was not aware of prosecutors' allegations that the DMV form included the signature of a doctor who did not give her permission and said McNown was never a patient.

``He is disappointed in the system that he is charged with this matter,'' Safer said. ``It deeply troubles him. He had led an exemplary life.''

Safer acknowledged that McNown was well enough to participate in spring practice in 1998 while possessing the placard. But he said McNown never used the placard to park in a handicapped spot and understands the outcry within the disabled community.

``He is a sensitive and caring person. That's the kind of person we're talking about,'' Safer said.

Williams said prosecutors stand behind their charges. ``We looked at these cases long and hard before we filed. We believe we can prove this case. There's no doubt about it.''

The four who pleaded no contest through their attorneys Tuesday were convicted on one count each of illegal possession of a handicapped parking placard. In exchange for the plea, the City Attorney's Office dropped the charge of using signatures of nonexistent physicians.

Those four are James Ghezzi, 22, of Mar Vista; Mark Reynosa, 20, of Sylmar; Duval Hicks, 23, of Sherman Oaks; and Durell Price, 21, of Newhall.

The case against Craig Walendy, 21, of Westlake, was continued to Sept. 30.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 15, 1999
Words:561
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