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Limo driver claims Sonics’ Payton punched him in the face

March 19, 1997

CHICAGO (AP) _ A limousine driver assigned to Seattle SuperSonics Gary Payton has accused the star guard of punching him in the face over a fare dispute.

``I think I’m getting a black eye,″ the driver, Frank Shala, said Tuesday.

Payton’s agent disputes the allegations.

Chicago police say Shala told them the incident happened in front of a Chicago hotel at about 9 p.m. Monday, but he did not file a report until 1:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Shala said he was assigned to Payton for five hours Monday, but Payton balked at paying for the entire period.

``He didn’t want to pay,″ Shala said Tuesday. ``We got into an argument about it and he decided to use his fist.″

Payton would not address reporters as a group before Tuesday night’s game with the Chicago Bulls, but responded tersely when pursued by TV cameras.

``I don’t know nothing about it,″ Payton said. ``I ain’t did nothing.″

His agent, Eric Goodwin, handed out a two-sentence statement denying Shala’s account.

``The allegations against Gary Payton are completely without merit ... ,″ the statement said. ``Gary will take whatever action is necessary to protect his personal and professional reputation, including pursuing any and all actions he may have against the parties who have intentionally misrepresented the truth at Gary’s expense.″

Shala, a driver from A Hollywood Dream Limousines in suburban Brookfield, was assigned to Payton both Sunday and Monday night. Although he filed a battery complaint, police say he did not sign a summons that would have forced Payton to go to criminal court.

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