Update: By June 8, all charges against Cooper in the incident had been dropped and he was back on track.
Tyrese Cooper, an 18-year-old who's one of the ten fastest 400-meter runners in the world, was arrested for trying to steal cars at Miami International Airport Monday. Now he might not be able to take part in this weekend's state tournament in Jacksonville.
Cooper, a Miami Norland Senior High School junior, won a national title last year in the 200 meters at the age of 17. He ranks number 14 in the United States in the 100 meters, fifth in the 200 meters, and fourth in the 400 meters with a time of 46.4 seconds. He won state titles last year in both the 200 and 400 meters. He has been timed faster than the world's most famous sprinter, Usain Bolt, at a similar age.
Monday afternoon, according to a police report, he was stopped with three other young men of about the same age — Shomari Durosier, Andy Vieux, and Kareem Boothe — at the airport's Intermodal Center. The teens had driven into the building, where several cars have been stolen in the past. After authorities spotted a chain blocking off cars that had been snipped, they called police.
Officers quickly spotted the young men and then looked into their car, where they found a bolt cutter. They were taken into custody and read their rights. Cooper then "admitted to being driven to the rental car center to steal cars," according to the report.
The arrest was perhaps most acutely felt by Darius Lawshea, a coach who had trained Cooper and took him into his home for four years. Lawshea and his wife Johanna run the Miami Gardens Express, a bare-bones operation where scores of young people — mostly from underprivileged homes — run track and, despite a lack of resources, compete with the very best in the nation. Kids range in age from 4 to 18 or so. Often they practice on dirt because they don't have a track. (Full disclosure: This writer's son once trained with the team.)
Cooper, whose nickname is Smoke, and teammate Jamal Walton were for years the superstars of the Express. Lawshea took Cooper into his home when he was 13.
"I was like a dad," Lawshea said Tuesday. "But then he started battling me about being a dad and a coach. We were bumping heads, and he was being disrespectful, not coming home for curfew. He did it in front of my wife, and I had to ask him to leave. Then he fell in with the wrong people."
Lawshea said that Cooper has continued doing well in school "as far as grades" and that he hoped the young man would continue to succeed.
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Cooper was charged with attempted grand theft of a vehicle and possession of burglary tools, both felonies. He was also slapped with misdemeanor criminal mischief and loitering.
Lawshea said Norland athletic director Robert Ryan called him Tuesday morning to say Cooper would not be allowed to compete in the state tournament, which will be held beginning Friday at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. The young runner was favored to repeat last year's accomplishments. (Ryan did not immediately return a call seeking comment.)
Last year, Miami New Times named Cooper "Best Local Boy Made Good."
"I'd like to find a way for him to get into the race," Lawshea said. "He is a good kid."