OXNARD, Calif. – David Laut, who won a bronze medal for the United States in the shot put at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, was shot to death after confronting intruders outside his California home, authorities said Saturday. He was 52.
Laut was gunned down early Friday when he went outside to check on a noise in the yard, Oxnard Police Sgt. Ken Klopman said. Police on Saturday hadn't made any arrests or identified suspects.
Born in Ohio and raised in Southern California, Laut won two NCAA titles at UCLA and a gold medal at the 1979 Pan American Games, in addition to his Olympic medal.
At one meet of the then-named Pac-8 conference, Laut purposely fouled by walking out of the ring just after a throw, thinking it had been a poor effort, said Jim Kiefer, Laut's throwing coach at UCLA. However, the throw would have won Laut the conference title and Kiefer warned Laut never to do it again.
When Laut won the 1978 NCAA title the following month, he ran over to his coach and lifted him up over his head.
"And I weighed 220 pounds," Kiefer said. "He just said, 'Wow.' I remember what I said too. I said, 'Put me down.'"
Laut was favored to win the gold medal at the 1984 Olympics after throwing 70 feet, 10 inches at the U.S. Olympic Trials. He won the bronze instead with a mark of 68 feet, 9 3/4 inches on his final attempt at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
In 1985, he was ranked the No. 7 shot-putter in the world and the No. 1 American. But his career nearly ended the following year when he tore tendons in both knees during an agility test to become a fireman.
Laut's effort to make the 1988 U.S. Olympic team fell short at the Olympic Trials with a best of 66 feet, 8 3/4 inches.
Laut worked out every day in the garage of his small stucco home in Ventura County, about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles. But few of his neighbors knew anything about his competitive past.
"I never knew he was a medalist until somebody told me," neighbor Chet Thomas told the Times.
Carter Laurie, Laut's neighbor, said his wife heard three shots at about midnight Friday, but the couple dismissed the sound as firecrackers until police arrived.
Officers found Laut lying dead from multiple gunshot wounds to the head in his side yard, authorities said.
A 911 call had come from the home where Laut lived with Jane Laut, his wife of 29 years, and their 10-year-old son Michael.
"It was an honor to know him," Laurie told the Times. "He was a local boy who did well and came back to share his talents with the community."
No arrests have been made and police have no suspects.
Sgt. Ron Whitney said police rarely get calls for violent crime in the neighborhood, which is about two miles from the beach.
Laut was a track coach for eight years, then athletic director for a year, at Hueneme High School in Oxnard. He had spent much of the day before he was killed helping student-athletes arrange physicals for the upcoming school year.
"He was a gentle giant, compassionate and student-focused," said the school's principal, Adrian Palazuelos. "And he was a competitor like no other."