LOS ANGELES, JAN. 18 -- Ben Johnson, whose forte is, or at least was, quick starts, is still looking for one in his comeback.

In his second race since serving a two-year ban for steroid use, Johnson couldn't catch Andre Cason, whose initial burst tonight in the 50 meters was too fast for Johnson and the rest of the field in the Sunkist Invitational before 12,438 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

Cason won in the meet-record time of 5.69 seconds. Johnson, who said narrow lanes prevented him from running at full speed, finished in 5.74 to set a new Canadian standard.

"I think you'll see the real Ben Johnson very soon," he said after his second second-place finish in a week. "I'm just trying to get the feeling back and my mind in the right shape."

The competition wasn't as fierce as it was seven days ago in Hamilton, Ontario, where Johnson was beaten by little-known Daron Council in a race he dedicated to his late father.

Cason, the world junior champion in 1988 and second in the NCAA 100 meters last year at Texas A&M, had been expected to be Johnson's foremost challenger. In winning, he displayed the type of start Johnson had used to become the dominant sprinter in the world.

"I could see he didn't have enough room before the start," Cason said. "But I had enough room. That's all that mattered."

"The lanes were very small," Johnson said. "I couldn't get that explosive {start} I normally have."

The loss capped a long week for Johnson, who Monday was arrested and charged with assaulting former track club teammate Cheryl Thibedeau, only 72 hours after his Hamilton appearance.

In only his second race in the past 27 months, Johnson was the crowd favorite. Even his presence, however, failed to attract a crowd larger than the 13,000-plus gatherings for the 1985 and 1987 meets.

He was lured to Los Angeles with a $30,000 guarantee from veteran promoter Al Franken, and he reportedly had incentives based on attendance figures.

Only a slow start seven days earlier in Hamilton prevented Johnson from winning the first race in his comeback. Johnson, in 5.77, fell just two-hundredths of a second short of a victory.

It hasn't been easy for Johnson to salvage his sullied image. Monday, three days after his second-place finish in Hamilton, he was arrested by Toronto police and charged with assaulting Thibedeau, a former teammate of Johnson's with the Mazda Track Club.

Comments by Thibedeau, who recently told the Toronto Star that she thought Johnson was no longer an explosive starter, are thought to be a contributing factor in an alleged assault by Johnson on Thibedeau, which Thibedeau said caused her to suffer a neck injury.

Johnson, who turned himself in and was released on his own recognizance, has a Jan. 24 court date.

Earlier tonight, in the women's 400-meter race, former George Mason star Terry Dendy finished second behind nine-time national champion and world indoor record holder Diane Dixon.

Dixon finished in 53.25, a second slower than her record 52.20 in 1985. Dendy ran 55.87, almost three seconds ahead of third-place finisher Marsha Guidaldo.

In the national championship high school mile, Jama Bile of Georgetown Prep (Md.) finished second despite a late charge that left him just short of winner Louie Quintana, from Arroyo Grande (Calif.) High.

Quintana won in 4:14.20; Bile, whose rally drew loud cheers, finished in 4:14.89.