Bond doubled for Ralph Wager; more alleged victims come forward | Crime
SALISBURY - Bond has now been doubled for a former local soccer coach accused of sex crimes with a child in the 1980's. Former Catawba College soccer coach Ralph Wager, 69, was in court Wednesday in Salisbury.
Prosecutor Seth Banks told the court that the alleged victim, 10 years old at the time, met Wager while the child was attending a swim camp that regularly used the pool at Catawba College. Banks said that Wager reached out to the boy upon learning the boy's mother was stricken with breast cancer. Banks also stated that the mother became aware of the inappropriate nature of the relationship and kept her son away from Wager.
Banks also inferred that the college was aware of the rumors about Wager and his relationship and the alleged victim.
"Also, as I understand, the college actually took action and restricted his access to the pool facility and told him he's not to have any contact specifically with the victim in this case," Banks said.
When Banks was recounting these events, Wager vigorously shook his head back and forth as if in disagreement of the account presented by Banks.
WBTV has contacted Catawba College about the comments that were made in court. In a letter sent to WBTV this week, Catawba President Brien Lewis pledged the school was now conducting its own investigation into the alleged incident.
"I know you agree with me that the behavior alleged in this case is intolerable," Lewis wrote in the letter that also went to members of the Catawba Board. "Because this troubling report involves an allegation about a former employee which may have occurred on campus, the Board of Trustees and I agreed to order an independent investigation of this entire matter. Our attorneys with professional outside investigators are already collaborating with the faculty, staff, former employees and detectives to conduct a thorough investigation. With their help we hope to learn the relevant facts as to any allegation that may involve the College."
In the courtroom Wednesday, Judge Eddinger said he found the allegations against Wager disturbing.
"I understand the presumption of innocence," Judge Kevin Eddinger told the court. "I'm very disturbed at the background information. I"m very disturbed at the state's outline of the case that the defendant not only exploited a position of trust, but came into the scene and ingratiated himself to the alleged victim while the child was watching his mother die of breast cancer, which is aggravated by the defendant re-initiating contact with the victim at a later point in time. Based on the information I'm going to set his bond at one million dollars."
His lawyer, Darren Jordan, wanted Wager's $500,000 bond reduced, but in the end, Judge Kevin Eddinger doubled the bond to one million dollars, saying that he believed Wager could pose a flight risk.
Prosecutor Banks said that a recent jailhouse phone conversation by Wager had been recorded by deputies and that in the call, Wager noted that if he got out on bond, he planned on moving to New York. Banks also stated that he believes Wager to be a danger to the community.
"The evidence paints a picture of Mr. Wager as an individual who used the position of trust and in this case exploited that position of trust to take advantage of a young man who was under the age of 13 when these events occurred."
Prosecutors also pointed out that more victims have come forward, including a man who said he was molested by Wager in the 1960's in New York.
Wager left Catawba in 1990. His lawyer said that Wager's doctor had recommend that he leave the coaching position due to undisclosed health problems. Wager then moved to Charlotte in the Steele Creek area where he has been running soccer camps until his arrest last week.
Jordan told the court that there has been an outpouring of support for Wager from former students and players in New York, Salisbury, and Charlotte.
"I cannot tell the court the quantity and outpouring of support that has come into our office, wanting to support Coach Wager," Jordan said.
Banks also stated in court that the alleged victim from the 1980's contacted investigators after doing a Google search on Ralph Wager. The man saw that Wager was still coaching children and decided to take action.
"The thought that there are more victims out there compelled me to make these facts known to law enforcement authorities," Banks said, quoting the alleged victim.
That man also agreed to wear a microphone and confront Wager at Wager's Steele Creek town home. Banks said that in the recorded conversation Wager appears to apologize for the conduct and never denies that the inappropriate interactions took place.
The case will now go to the Grand Jury on Monday.