Damacio Diaz of McFarland cross country fame admits to police corruption and drug charges, faces federal prison

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Damacio Diaz, right, shakes hands with Tomas Valles as the team readies for the start of the Southern section championships in the 1987 season.

Damacio Diaz, one of the three “running Diaz” brothers who helped build the McFarland High School cross country dynasty of the 1980s and 1990s and whose adventures were a key story line in the inspirational Disney film “McFarland USA,” has admitted to an array of charges stemming from a federal police corruption investigation and will almost certainly spend time in federal prison, according to published media reports.

Diaz, who went on to become a detective with the Bakersfield Police Department and was employed for 17 years, was arrested in November, 2015 and charged with 16 counts in a federal indictment. He resigned three months ago, on February 24. According to a Bakersfield Californian article published today and written by Steven Mayer and Christine Bedell, “Diaz admitted to a litany of crimes while he was working as a cop, including taking bribes, large-scale distribution of methamphetamine, working in partnership with a known drug dealer, stealing evidence and providing police intelligence to criminal partners.”

Federal prosecutors are recommending lenient sentencing for Diaz in exchange for his testimony and cooperation in their continuing investigation of the case. However, the amount of time Diaz might have to serve in prison has not been disclosed, and it will be up to the federal judge who handles the case to accept or reject the deal. Some of the charges against Diaz carry lifetime prison terms. The willingness of federal prosecutors to offer leniency for such serious crimes seems to indicate that the corruption scandal, in their view, might extend well beyond just Diaz and his former partner, who, according to The Californian, is expected to also be charged.

The Diaz arrest and admission is yet another devastating blow to the community of McFarland. The success of the cross country program has been a source of pride for the small agricultural community located 20 miles north of Bakersfield, which in the 1980s  endured unspeakable heartache and tragedy. Those included a cross country practice accident that took the lives of two members of the girls team, the death by heart attack of the school’s football coach, a Valentine’s Day car crash that claimed the lives of six teenagers from McFarland and neighboring Delano, the accidental deaths by drowning and a car accident that claimed two other teens, and a mysterious and unsolved cancer cluster that afflicted and claimed the lives of several children living in a several-square block section of McFarland.

The story line involving the Diaz brothers in the film “McFarland USA” highlighted the cultural differences between McFarland’s residents and the community’s burgeoning population of Mexican immigrants and their children. In the film, and presumably in their real lives, coach Jim White wants the Diaz brothers to run on the cross country team, but meets stiff resistance from the Diaz brothers’ father, who insists that they must work alongside him in the fields before and after school. The Diaz family also provided one of the film’s funniest scenes, when coach White, played by Kevin Costner, joins the family for dinner and is fed almost to the brink of unconsciousness by Mrs. Diaz. The film, while not accurate in many respects, still reflected positively on McFarland and has been well received by its residents. Many of the athletes who competed for coach White have had successful careers as adults. The other Diaz brothers, Danny and David, work as educational administrators.

The charges against Diaz – and the speculation that the scandal might run deep inside the Bakersfield Police Department, according to statements made by Diaz’s attorney – come at a time when law enforcement in Kern County is facing tremendous national and international scrutiny. Earlier this year, the British newspaper The Guardian, one of the world’s best investigative journalism outlets, published a series in which it declared police in Kern County to be the deadliest in America. Several of the cases highlighted were Bakersfield police cases.

The Bakersfield Californian articles report this story in depth. Click here to read yesterday’s story by Steven Mayer and click here to read today’s by Mayer and Christine Bedell.

The Guardian series declaring Kern County police the country’s deadliest

Twinkies, Hawaii and messages in the sand: The story of Sylvia and Herlinda

The real “McFarland USA” beach scene, from the album of Silvia Diaz

Photos from the Bakersfield sneak peek of “McFarland USA”

A look at the real “McFarland USA” kids and coach Jim White

Update: Show the world what has happened to my son

McFarland’s never-ending heartache

Prom night, a crash and six teens lost

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Damacio Diaz signs autographs at the Bakersfield sneak peak of the Disney film “McFarland USA” in February, 2015.

 

The real “McFarland USA” beach scene, from the album of Silvia Diaz

In this photo provided by Flora Diaz, the niece of Sylvia Diaz, one of the two runners killed in the 1986 practice accident, the 1985 McFarland boys and girls team enjoy the beach at Cayucos.
In this photo shot with Raul Diaz’s camera and provided by Flora Diaz, the brother and younger sister of Silvia Diaz, one of the two runners killed in the 1986 practice accident, the 1985 McFarland boys and girls team enjoy the beach north of Morro Bay. The pictures are from Silvia’s album. Sylvia is on the left, #3.

One of the more touching scenes in the movie “McFarland USA” – as in  get-out-your-Kleenex and hankies – is when coach Jim White, played by Kevin Costner, takes his team to the beach for the first time in most of the runners’ lives. Well, it really happened, though a little different from the movie. Coach White took both the boys and girls to the California central coast beachs at Morro Bay and Cuyucos during the 1985 season, and for many, it was the first time they ever saw the ocean.

Clip courtesy of Norma Takahashi.
Clip courtesy of Norma Takahashi, Herlinda Gonzales and Slivia Diaz’s teammate.

These photos of that day were shot by Silvia Diaz’s brother, Raul, or by teammates using Raul’s camera, and provided by Flora Diaz, Silvia’s younger sister. Silvia was one of the two runners on the girls team, the other was Herlinda Gonzalez, who were struck by a car and killed in the practice accident on October 27, 1986. Silvia died on October 27, Herlinda on October 28. Both girls were on this trip to a meet in Santa Maria and the beachs, and these photos are from Silvia’s album, which her family had saved. Silvia was 16 and Herlinda was 14. Raul was also a runner on the team when his sister was killed.

In this photo from the album of Sylvia Diaz and shot by her brother, Raul Diaz, the McFarland boys and girls cross country team plays on the beach at Cayucos after coach Jim White took them there in 1985.
In this photo from the album of Silvia Diaz and photographed by her brother, Raul Diaz, the McFarland boys and girls cross country team plays on the beach north of Morro Bay after coach Jim White took them there in 1985.
At Morro Bay, Herlinda Gonzalez (6) wrote "MHS #1" in the sand. Silvia Diaz is #3, her brother Raul is at right. (Working to get name of runner at left.) Picture was taken with Raul's camera by a team member.
At Morro Bay, Herlinda Gonzalez (left) wrote “MHS #1” in the sand. Silvia Diaz is #3, her brother Raul is at right. Delfina Herrera is between Silvia and Herlinda. Picture was taken with Raul’s camera by a team member.
At left, Silvia Diaz and Alicia Herrera. Center from left, Tammy Carter, Gabby Perez, Norma Lopez and Dolores Plata. Top, standing on rock is Albert Torrez. Photo is by Raul Diaz and is from the personal album of Silvia Diaz.
At left, Silvia Diaz and Alicia Herrera. Center from left, Tammy Carter, Dolores Plata, Norma Lopez and Gabby Perez. Top, standing on rock is Albert Torrez. Photo is by Raul Diaz and is from the personal album of Silvia Diaz.

Dolores Plata – now Cesar Chavez High School in Delano assistant principal Dolores Rodriguez – was on the 1985 team and here’s what she said about that day: “This was actually our 1985 fall season. Those beach pictures are from the first time (Coach) White took us after the Atascadero race. It was the first time all of us ever stepped foot on a beach. That was a great day!

The McFarland boys and girls teams in Atascadero, the day coach Jim White took them to the beach.
The McFarland boys and girls teams in Atascadero, the day coach Jim White took them to the beach. From the album of Silvia Diaz, photographed by her brother, Raul, and provided by her sister, Flora. Silvia Diaz is seated, second from left, and Herlinda Gonzalez is seated to Silvia’s right.
The McFarland girls in Atascadero. They would later be taken to the beach, with the boys team. For many, if not all, it was the first time they would see the ocean. This photo is from the album of Sylvia Diaz, was shot by her brother, Raul, and provided by her sister, Flora.
The McFarland girls in Atascadero. They would later be taken to the beach, with the boys team. For many, if not all, it was the first time they would see the ocean. This photo is from the album of Silvia Diaz, was photographed by her brother, Raul, and provided by her sister, Flora. Silvia is in the center, in the pink shirt. Herlinda is on the right, and Dolores Plata is standing in white hat..
The teams on the day of the beach trip, fall of 1985.
Coach Jim White with the teams on the day of the beach trip following a meet in Atascadero, fall of 1985. From the album of Silvia Diaz, photographed by her brother, Raul Diaz and provided by her sister, Flora. Silvia is at far right, in pink shirt.
The McFarland boys and girls teams the day of their meet in Atascadero, when coach Jim White took them to the beach.
The McFarland boys and girls teams the day of their meet in Atascadero, when coach Jim White took them to the beach. From the album of Silvia Diaz, photographed by her brother, Raul and provided by her sister, Flora. Silvia is at the far right, #3.

These photographs are the property of the Diaz family and are published here with their permission. Thank you to Cesar Chavez High assistant principal Dolores Rodriguez for facilitating the use of these photos. To learn more about the story of McFarland, the hardships it encountered, Silvia Diaz and Herlinda Gonzalez and the role the cross country teams played in bringing some sunshine to a town enduring unspeakable tragedy and heartache, please visit these links on this blog:

The real McFarland USA kids and coach Jim White

McFarland’s never-ending heartache

Prom night, a crash and six teens lost

Show the world what has happened to my son

Pictures from the Bakersfield sneak peek of “McFarland USA”

 

Photos from the Bakersfield sneak peek of “McFarland USA”

Kevin Costner arrives at the Maya Cinemas for the Bakersfield sneak peak of the movie "McFarland USA," which opens Friday.
Kevin Costner arrives at the Maya Cinemas for the Bakersfield sneak peek of the movie “McFarland USA,” which opens Friday.

I went to the Bakersfield sneak peek of the new Disney movie “McFarland USA” tonight – it was excellent, by the way – and promised myself I was just going to watch the movie like a regular person and not shoot any pictures. Yeah, well, you know.  When it’s what you do, it’s what you do. So here are some pictures from the sneak peak, and I am going to brag on our outstanding Bakersfield College journalism students in a few of them. And please visit the page on this blog featuring photos of the real McFarland team and coach Jim White from the 1987 championship season.

It didn't take long before Kevin Costner was mobbed by fans outside the Maya Cinemas for the Bakersfield sneak peak of "McFarland USA."
It didn’t take long before Kevin Costner was mobbed by fans outside the Maya Cinemas for the Bakersfield sneak peek of “McFarland USA.”
Bakersfield College Renegade Rip editor Elizabeth Castillo interviews the real life David Diaz at the Bakersfield sneak peak of "McFarland USA."
Bakersfield College Renegade Rip editor Elizabeth Castillo interviews the real life David Diaz at the Bakersfield sneak peek of “McFarland USA.”
The real life Diaz brothers (from left) Damacio, Danny and David, at the Bakersfield sneak peak of "McFarland USA."
The real life Diaz brothers (from left) Damacio, Danny and David, at the Bakersfield sneak peek of “McFarland USA.”
The real life Johnny Sameniego at the sneak peak of "McFarland USA."
The real life Johnny Samaniego at the sneak peek of “McFarland USA.”
The real life Damacio Diaz signs autographs at the Bakersfield sneak peak of the Disney film "McFarland USA."
The real life Damacio Diaz signs autographs at the Bakersfield sneak peek of the Disney film “McFarland USA.”
Carlos Pratts, who had a major role as McFarland High runner Thomas Valles, is interviewed by Bakersfield College Renegade Rip editor Elizabeth Castillo at the Bakersfield sneak peak of "McFarland USA."
Carlos Pratts, who had a major role as McFarland High runner Thomas Valles, is interviewed by Bakersfield College Renegade Rip editor Elizabeth Castillo at the Bakersfield sneak peek of “McFarland USA.”
Carlos Pratts, who had a major role as McFarland High runner Thomas Valles, is interviewed by Bakersfield College Renegade Rip editor Elizabeth Castillo at the Bakersfield sneak peak of "McFarland USA."
Carlos Pratts, who had a major role as McFarland High runner Thomas Valles, is interviewed by Bakersfield College Renegade Rip editor Elizabeth Castillo at the Bakersfield sneak peek of “McFarland USA.”
bakersfield College Renegade Rip reporter Elizabeth Castillo and photographer Javier Valdez on the red carpet to cover the sneak peak of "McFarland USA."
Bakersfield College Renegade Rip editor Elizabeth Castillo and photographer Javier Valdes on the red carpet to cover the sneak peek of “McFarland USA.”
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The real life McFarland boys cross country coach Jim White at the Bakersfield sneak peek of the new Disney film “McFarland USA.”
The real life Cheryl White at the Bakersfield sneak peak of "McFarland USA."
The real life Cheryl White at the Bakersfield sneak peek of “McFarland USA.”
The real life Cheryl White signs autographs at the Bakersfield sneak peak of "McFarland USA."
The real life Cheryl White signs autographs at the Bakersfield sneak peek of “McFarland USA.”
The real life Johnny Sameniego is interviewed at the Bakersfield sneak peak of the new Disney film "McFarland USA."
The real life Johnny Samaniego is interviewed by Vida en el Valle’s Daniel Casarez at the Bakersfield sneak peek of the new Disney film “McFarland USA.”
Coach Jim White takes a photo with members of his 1999-2001 McFarland cross country teams at the Bakersfield sneak peak of the film "McFarland USA."
Coach Jim White takes a photo with members of his 1999-2001 McFarland cross country teams at the Bakersfield sneak peek of the film “McFarland USA.” From left, Oscar Rodriguez, Carlos Cabanillas, Giovani Perezchica, Jim White, Hector Perezchica, Arturo Gonzalez, Jr. and Andres Gomez.
Coach Jim White watches his wife, Cheryl, sign an autograph at the Bakersfield sneak peak of the new Disney film "McFarland USA."
Coach Jim White watches his wife, Cheryl, sign an autograph at the Bakersfield sneak peek of the new Disney film “McFarland USA.”
Coach Jim White and his wife, Cheryl, at the Bakersfield sneak peak of the new Disney film "McFarland USA."
Coach Jim White and his wife, Cheryl, at the Bakersfield sneak peek of the new Disney film “McFarland USA.”

All pictures on this site are owned by John Harte.

 

McFarland’s never-ending heartache

Thomas Valles prays before the start of the Kern Invitational on November 1, 1986, five days after two teammates from the girls team were killed during a practice session.
Thomas Valles prays before the start of the Kern Invitational on November 1, 1986, five days after two teammates from the girls team were killed during a practice session.

Update, February 18, 2015: I have located my original images from the 1986 Kern County Invitational, the first race the McFarland girls and boys ran following the tragic accident that killed their teammates Herlinda Gonzalez and Silvia Diaz. I also found the images from the California Interscholastic Federation central Section South Area race two and one-half weeks later. I remember shooting both of these races as they were extremely emotional. They are presented here.

I don’t know if any city as small as McFarland, California, population around 6,500 back then, has endured as much heartbreak and despair involving their children as this town did in the mid and late 1980s. My coverage of two of those are detailed on this site (Show the World What Has Happened to My Son and Prom Night, a Crash and Six Teens Lost). On October 27, 1986, as parents were desperately searching for answers and help finding the cause of a cancer outbreak that was claiming the lives of the farming community’s children, and just a few months before the horrific Valentine’s Day car crash that claimed the lives of six teens from McFarland and neighboring Delano, two members of McFarland High’s cross country team were killed. Silvia Diaz, 16, and Herlinda Gonzalez, 14, were struck by a car during a practice run along one of McFarland’s roads.

The McFarland girls cross country team in 1986. Sylvia Diaz, 16, is second from left, seated on the bench. Herlinda Gonzalez, 14, is seated on the bench second from the right, the girl with the big smile. This photo was provided by their teammate, Norma Takahashi, middle of the standing row.
The McFarland girls cross country team in 1986. Silvia Diaz, 16, is second from left, seated on the bench. Herlinda Gonzalez, 14, is seated on the bench second from the right, the girl with the big smile. This photo was provided by their teammate, Norma Lopez, middle of the standing row.
Clip courtesy of Norma Takahashi, Slivia and Herlinda's teammate.
Clip courtesy of Norma Takahashi, Silvia and Herlinda’s teammate.

McFarland would continue to endure unspeakable heartache, though I didn’t work any of the other stories. They were the death of football coach Gerry Pitts, who suffered a heart attack and the Kern River drowning of 16-year-old James Lopez that summer, the death of McFarland High junior Stacey Morris in a traffic accident earlier in the year and the stabbing death of Daniel Gonzalez, 16, at a party in 1985. In the late 1980s, Eduardo Martinez, a popular student and football player at McFarland High, lost his life in a post-graduation car accident on the way to Avila Beach in a crash that also seriously injured several other teens. Fate apparently wasn’t cruel enough to McFarland in the 1980s. During the football season of 1991, Freddy Mendoza, 17, a captain on the varsity football team, collapsed during a game and died of a brain hemorrhage.

A movie starring Kevin Costner, “McFarland USA,” about cross country coach Jim White and the remarkable cross country team, is coming this February, and hopefully it is going to be a winner, because this town has paid its dues in a big way and deserves some positive attention and a little national love. This remarkable Los Angeles Times article and photo story, published in 1997, provides a great, richly-detailed picture of what the residents of this town endured.

November 1, 1986. The Kern County Invitational:

In these four photos, McFarland girls runner Tammy Carter finishes the Kern Invitational at Hart Park in Bakersfield and lands in the arms of coach Gary Pierson. Carter ran the race just five days after the accident that killed her two teammates.

McF_runner_girls_1McF_runner_girls_2McF_runner_girls_3McF_runner_girls_4

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The boys team readies for the start of the 1986 Kern Invitational. From left are Victor Puentes (7), Johnny Samaniego (2), Damacio Diaz (5), Thomas Valles (16) and David Diaz.
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Thomas Valles runs in the Kern Invitational in 1986. The team raced just five days after their teammates Silvia Diaz and Herlinda Gonzalez were struck and killed by a car during practice.
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David Diaz runs in the 1986 Kern Invitational at Hart Park.
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Johnny Samaniego runs in the 1986 Kern Invitational on November 1, 1986.

November 13, 1986. The South Area Championships:

The McFarland girls cross country team competes in the South Area race in Hart Park in Bakersfield on November 13, 1986.

McFarland_girls_2McFarland_girls_6McFarland_girls_8McFarland_girls_web_1McFarland_girls_5In the two photos above, Norma Gonzalez and Hollie Wycoff after their race at the South Area championships, still grieving following the deaths of teammates Silvia Diaz and Herlinda Gonzalez.

The parents of one of the girls arranged to have the team driven to the race in a limo, an effort to lift their spirits as they were still grieving after accident that killed Sylvia Diaz and Herlinda Gonzalez.
The parents of one of the girls arranged to have the team driven to the race in a limo, an effort to lift their spirits as they were still grieving after accident that killed Silvia Diaz and Herlinda Gonzalez. From left are Eva Renteria, Hollie Wycoff, Delfina Herrera, Maria Herrera, Alicia Herrera, Tammy Carter, Norma Gonzalez and coach Gary Pierson.