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Olympian pleads guilty to attempted molesting

Swim coach Doug Northway’s sentence could range from probation to prison in the 1995 case.

NORMAN PECKHAM Citizen Staff Writer

A local swimmer and coach who won a bronze medal in the 1972 Olympics has pleaded guilty to attempting to molest a 9-year-old Tucson girl.

Doug Northway, 42, was charged in January with two counts of child molestation for allegedly molesting the girl in the summer of 1995. Those charges were dropped after he pleaded guilty in April to attempting to molest the girl, court records show.

He faces five to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced June 20. But the judge also could give Northway probation.

Northway, a former Sahuaro High School and University of Arizona swimmer, won a bronze medal in the 1972 Munich Games in the 1,500-meter freestyle.

He also competed in the 800 free relay in the 1976 Montreal Games and made the Olympic team for 1980 Moscow Games, but those games were boycotted by the United States.

Northway, who is not in custody, is no longer working as a swimming coach at Ventana Canyon Golf and Racquet Club, a staffer there said.

Bob Davis, who coached Northway in swimming at UA in 1976 and 1977, said he believes Northway ”felt devastated” when he talked to him months ago about the alleged molestation charges.

Davis said he talks with Northway ”maybe every six months or every year.”

”I just don’t believe anything like that could happen,” Davis said. ”I just don’t believe he could do that . . . I just don’t see how he could’ve been capable of that.

”I couldn’t think of a bigger waste if he did any of this.”

Davis said he did not know why the swimmer pleaded guilty.

Northway, according to court records, pleaded guilty to attempting to touch the girl’s genitals.

He could not be reached for comment yesterday. A man answering Northway’s phone, who would not identify himself, referred questions to Northway’s attorney, Gary Spector.

Spector yesterday said he would not comment on the case until after Northway is sentenced by Pima County Superior Court Judge Michael Cruikshank.

Whether Northway receives probation is within Cruikshank’s discretion.

If Northway is handed probation, he could be ordered to spend a year in the Pima County Jail as part of his probation.

If sent to prison, he would have to serve 85 percent of his sentence.

Deputy County Attorney Howard Fell, who is prosecuting the case, said Northway will have to register as a sex offender.

If given probation, Northway also will have to participate in a sex offender treatment program, Fell said.

Fell said Northway was charged after an investigation.

The victim’s parents contacted authorities, but Fell said he could not remember when.

Court records and Fell did not say how Northway met or knew the girl, nor where the alleged attempted molestation occurred.

The girl, now almost 11, ”apparently . . . has been involved in some counseling” since the incident, Fell said.

He said the girl’s family is ”devastated that their child was subjected to this kind of horrible molestation.”

”This family . . . is suffering through what we refer to as the dynamics of sexual abuse,” Fell said.

He said representatives of the victim ”were in accord” with the plea agreement, and added it keeps the girl from having to go through the trauma of a trial.

”We feel the public, under the circumstances will be protected,” Fell said.

Fell said he will review a presentence report on Northway before deciding what kind of sentence he will ask the judge to impose.

The attorney said he ”would suspect” that the girl’s family wants Northway to be sent to prison ”for as long as the judge could send him.”

Davis, his former UA coach, said it would be ”terrible” if Northway were sent to prison.

”He’s somebody you’d rather have on the streets, than in jail. You’d rather have him in the community,” said Davis, now a commercial real estate broker.

He said Northway is ”very” active in his church and is always trying to help people.

”He’s an Olympic athlete, but he’s never acted like that. He’s always down to earth about everything,” Davis said.

He described Northway as a ”helping, caring, hard-working” man who also is ”God-fearing.”

Davis said he knows Northway was often around children because he coached them in swimming, but added he’s never had any reason to suspect Northway would be capable of child molestation.

Crissy Ahmann, a 1992 Olympic gold medalist in swimming who lives in Tucson, said she met Northway through her Olympics experience.

”He was a great coach and a great family man, and I think it’s a shame something like this happened,” Ahmann said yesterday, recalling that Northway brought his wife and children out to Hi Corbett Field last summer for the Kerri Strug/Olympic celebration.

”He’s been coaching for a long time and a lot of kids have chosen to swim with him when they had other options, so I think it says a lot for him,” Ahmann said.

She said she doesn’t believe Northway’s case will have an effect on the world of swimming.

”There’s 2,000 swimmers in Tucson when you add up clubs, high school teams and college teams,” Ahmann said. ”We’re a drug-free program. You never hear about swimmers getting in trouble with the law for the most part.

”. . . I just think it’s too bad this would happen to anybody.”

Citizen Staff Writer Rhonda Bodfield contributed to this report.

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