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Teacher denies charges

by Mike Traum and Wire Reports

A Galena High School teacher, accused of having sex with a student and providing another with marijuana, has denied the accusations.

William James Peterson, 40, of South Lake Tahoe, surrendered to Washoe County detectives Friday in Reno. He was released on $32,000 bail Friday night.

In a telephone conversation from his home on Sunday evening Peterson told the Tahoe Daily Tribune all of the allegations are untrue.

“Obviously I can’t say much on the advice of my attorney. (The authorities) are taking statements from quite disturbed people. It’s not true,” said Peterson, who says he has been “browbeaten” by numerous media accounts over the weekend. “Not one of them (Reno television or newspapers) has tried to contact me. It’s out of control and really unfair. I’ve been tried and convicted already (by the media). It’s unbearable for my family and all of the people that know me.”

Peterson, who has a wife and four children, is currently on administrative leave from Galena. His arraignment is scheduled this week.

In addition to teaching and coaching at the Reno-area high school, Peterson teaches part time at Lake Tahoe Community College and is active with the South Lake Tahoe Little League and Babe Ruth baseball programs.

“He’d been really quiet the last month, but I never would’ve thought it would be something like this,” said Bill Cusac, a Babe Ruth umpire who has worked games with Peterson in the past. “He called me at about 6:30 a.m. on Saturday morning to tell me he couldn’t work games that day. He was seeing to his duties but sounded really down. He said he was innocent and that he had a good lawyer who he hoped could get him off. We only talked for about a minute.”

Detectives had been seeking Peterson on a warrant charging him with three counts of sexual contact with a 17-year-old student who, according to Reno media accounts, has spent time in a psychiatric facility, and two counts of supplying marijuana to another student. According to the sheriff’s office, the incidents occurred in Washoe Valley and in California.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Bob Towery said detectives were notified of the sexual charges April 28. The 1997 Legislature enacted a law prohibiting sex between a school official and a student after an incident in Pahrump. The girl’s parents reported the alleged incidents to school district officials. Towery said this is the first time a Washoe County teacher has been charged with having sex with a student.

“I’ve seen him for years working with kids and he was great. He doesn’t even smoke cigarettes. I would never have dreamed this would happen and still don’t believe it,” Cusac said.

Peterson, a Lake Tahoe resident since 1990, said he’s confident that he’ll be exonerated once the truth comes out.

“They’re taking unverified statements and running them as facts. I haven’t seen the kind of evidence they have. I just know they’ve been investigating this for a couple of weeks,” said Peterson, who admits knowing both of the students in question.

An 18-year-old girl who quit school in January was involved in the controlled substance charges.

“I don’t know where they’re digging her up from. She’s completely unreliable. I’ll leave it at that,” Peterson said.

Peterson most recently stepped down as the two-year president of South Tahoe Babe Ruth. At a board meeting last Tuesday, he cited personal reasons, including his own evaluation of “not really doing a good job and not having enough time” and agreed to stay on as a board member. Fellow board member Aleta Hannum has subsequently been elected president of the 120-player youth league.

“He came to me during the Little League opening ceremonies (May 1) and said he was thinking of resigning. He said he had some personal things going on and that he didn’t think he was doing a good job,” Hannum said. “At that point we said we’d be happy to have him stay on the board. We’ve valued his services but if the allegations turn out to be true, this is not the place for him to be.”

Hannum said she wasn’t sure how the board would react to the allegations, but that talk around the ball fields since Friday hasn’t focused on Peterson.

“We’re not hearing a lot about it. We feel so much for the families involved that we’re trying to distance ourselves for their sake. And I truly don’t believe this has anything to do with Babe Ruth baseball,” she said.

Added Dan Hannum, a board member and Babe Ruth coach who has worked in youth sports with Peterson for six years, “I was totally blown away. He’s always been very involved and likes to see the kids’ programs do well. And not one of my players has said anything. If it’s true, I find it hard to believe.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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