They are lucky. The morning's freeze has given way, leaving the
temperature cool but bearable. Still, they stamp their feet,
sprout goose bumps, giggle. What do you expect? They're naked,
nothing but the sneakers on their feet to guard against the
night, the mountain air, anyone watching. Their bodies tighten.
Someone yelps, and they move at once, a pack of 15 young men
running naked because this a University of Wyoming cross-country
tradition, because this morning brought the season's first
snowfall, because they are young and they can.
Does anyone see them? What if a Laramie cop cruises by? The young
men whoop and laugh, breathing easily. One tosses firecrackers
without breaking stride. The world, as they love to say, is
divided between distance runners and candy-asses, and--come on,
now--how many sub-five-minute milers can a doughnut-heavy
policeman chase down? They fly past the Classroom Building, shout
hellos to the statue of Ben Franklin, cross the expanse of
Prexy's Pasture: a fleet of thin arms and highly muscled legs,
hair catching the occasional flash of light. Their ears pick up
the revelry of a campus Saturday night. Now they jog in place on
a corner of 15th Street, waiting for a green light, and they hear
the gratifying sound of sorority girls in shock: "Hey! They're
They cruise down sorority row and, with their backs to the
Rockies, bear down for the stretch run to the Fieldhouse. They
are shy, brainy men, none of them a great success with women.
They spend their free time running over rocks and roots and
packed-down dirt, twisting ankles and grinding knees to powder.
They are 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 years old. Their skin is pale, a
milky blur fading into the blackness. Snowmelt splashes up their
Giddy from exposure and their audacity, some shout as they round
into the parking lot. Their clothes wait in a car. They've pulled
it off. Yes, it's a rush. They feel their hearts beating. They
are young, so no one says this is a moment to remember. No one
says it is something close to beautiful.
November 26, 2001
It is 9:45 p.m. on Sept. 8, 2001. In three days the world will
rock with a terrifying new motion; in less than a week, Prexy's
Pasture will fill with thousands of students grappling with the
Sept. 11 attacks. Very soon, more than half the runners will be
In the small hours of Sunday, Sept. 16, eight members of the
Wyoming cross-country team, jammed into a Jeep Wagoneer and
traveling north on Highway 287, just short of a six-building town
called Tie Siding, saw the headlights of a one-ton truck hurtling
toward them out of the dark. Within seconds, all eight--Cody
Brown, Kyle Johnson, Josh Jones, Justin Lambert-Belanger, Morgan
McLeland, Kevin Salverson, Nick Schabron and Shane Shatto--were
dead. Seven of them catapulted from the vehicle and landed as far
as 100 feet away. It was the worst traffic accident in Wyoming
history. Officers on the scene described it as a war zone.
"If you'd seen the picture of the Wagoneer, you'd know why," says
Kerry Shatto, Shane's father. "The car was gutted. There's
nothing from the engine block to the back: no roof, no side, no
seats. He cleaned the car out and drove through."
The truck's driver, Clinton Haskins, a 21-year-old steer wrestler
on the university's rodeo team, was arrested that day and charged
with eight counts of aggravated homicide by vehicle. According to
prosecutors, a blood test Haskins was given two hours after the
crash gauged his blood-alcohol level at .16 (the legal limit is
.10); fresh from a party and speeding south to Fort Collins,
Colo., to patch things up with his girlfriend, Haskins had
drifted over the center line and smashed into the Jeep. He
suffered cuts and bruises, but he didn't break a bone.
None of the runners in the Jeep knew Haskins, but he was more
than a fellow student. Although raised over the state border in
the ranch country of Maybell, Colo., Haskins had competed against
many Wyoming boys in high school, he was in a wedding last summer
with one of Shane Shatto's cousins, and his name was known to the
families of four Wyoming runners. This isn't unusual. With a
population smaller than that of Washington, D.C., and a governor
whose home number is listed in the phone book, Wyoming often
feels like America's biggest small town. People connect across
hundreds of miles through a web of relations and friendships
woven over generations, and an event like the one at Tie Siding
sends shock waves throughout the state. "Only something like
470,000 people live here," says Wyoming rodeo coach George
Howard. "We still all get together for lunch on Sunday
That night the closest thing to a stranger sat in the back of the
Jeep. Justin Lambert-Belanger, a 20-year-old sophomore, knew
nothing about Wyoming's culture of drinking and driving or the
notoriously dangerous stretch of highway he was traveling. He
barely knew the teammates beside him. He'd transferred to Wyoming
only three weeks before, and only one thing had become clear to
him and his teammates: Lambert-Belanger was the best runner of
In the Cowboys' first two races (a four-miler at home and an 8K
in Fort Collins), Lambert-Belanger had finished first for Wyoming
even though he was still adjusting to the altitude. He'd grown up
in Timmins, Ont., won Canada's junior steeplechase in 2000, spent
a year at tiny Campbell University in North Carolina. Word got
around that he'd turned down scholarship offers from Memphis,
Houston and Illinois. He had the calm of someone with nothing to
prove. "It was real cool, the clarity he had," says fellow
Cowboys runner Jason Delaney.
On Sept. 11, in fact, Lambert-Belanger had shaken off the day's
tumult long enough to focus on Delaney's stride. "He noticed that
my foot was striking four or five inches behind my hips," Delaney
says. "It made a huge difference. He studied the sport. He always
had a reason for what he did."
What clinched Lambert-Belanger's decision to come to Wyoming was
the prospect of pushing himself against altitude, the idea of
months spent coursing through silent hills. Wyoming was desolate;
it felt like home. After one practice run up in the Happy Jack
trails, Justin had implored his father, Richard, who was
visiting, to check out the trails' spectacular scenery. "Dad,
it's incredible," he said. "You've got to see it."
His mother, Lucie, had written him an e-mail a week before the
accident, asking if he was content. "Yes," he replied. That's the
reason his parents aren't consumed by the cruel fact that they
sent their child away to a new school only to have him die. It's
why they won't second-guess the choice he made. When they flew to
Laramie to attend the university's memorial service for the
runners, the Lambert-Belangers and their three remaining children
immediately drove to the trails above town, and later up to the
rare air of the Snowy Mountains. They imagined their son running
the dirt road.
"We needed the peace," Lucie says. "That's where he was happy."
More victims of Osama Bin Laden: That's how some people in
Wyoming see the deaths at Tie Siding. When news of the accident
broke, it created only a small stir outside the insular world of
college track and field. What normally would have been considered
a singular tragedy registered like a pinch following a punch in
the face. Who could muster energy for eight, after a week in
which thousands died in New York City, Washington and
Yet, some say, the terrorist attacks were the routine-shattering
act that led those boys to Highway 287. They have a point:
Without Sept. 11, no one would have been nearly as receptive to
the transforming power of the team's annual 12-mile mountain run
the morning before the accident. The university canceled all
sporting events for 10 days following the terrorist attacks, and
a combination of the week's uncertainty and the Snowy Mountains'
remote beauty fused the team as nothing ever had. No one wanted
to let that new camaraderie slip away.
"Usually when we get back, they scatter," coach Jim Sanchez says.
"That day, they felt so good, they wanted to hang around
together. The accident was just a carryover."
For 21 years Sanchez has been a fixture in Laramie, a
high-altitude expert with a talent for mining excellence out of
athletes the glamour running schools pass over. Next year, he'd
figured, was the earliest he could hope to compete again for a
Mountain West Conference (MWC) title. However, during that
mountain run on Sept. 15, Sanchez began to wonder. For the first
time in memory, each runner was healthy. Many responded to the
10,000-foot altitude with personal bests. At the finish, at Lake
Owen, Sanchez sensed something good in the air. He says, "You
could feel they felt it: We've got a team now."
"This is the best I've ever felt," Josh Jones, a 22-year-old
senior who was adding cross-country to his specialty, the 800
meters, said after the run. Jones, who was from Yoder, Wyo.,
spent August in Oregon with his mother, Nancy Vasa, and there he
divided his day not by meals but by runs--three of them, six-plus
miles apiece. He could play guitar and uncork irreverent Jimmy
Buffett songs, but he had little time for nonsense or
complaining. "Running was everything to him," Vasa says. "Josh
would come home to see family but mostly to train. When he got
off the plane, he'd say, 'How far can I run at sea level?' and
'How quickly can I recover?'"
On every visit to Oregon, Josh made a point of running at the
Prefontaine Track in Eugene, to feel like his hero, Steve
Prefontaine. He'd visit the spot called Pre's Rock, where the
track legend died in a car crash in 1975. In August, Josh and
Nancy had one of those abstract conversations about death, the
kind you have when you feel as if you can run forever. Cremate
me, Josh said, and sprinkle me over Pre's Rock. Two months later
she followed his instructions to the letter.
David Salverson feared the road. He didn't want his first-born
son, Kevin, driving after dark on any highway, especially 287. "I
told him horror stories," David says. There was the time David
was driving south on 287 and came upon a jackknifed
tractor-trailer sprawled across a patch of black ice. And the
time he was driving north from Fort Collins, and a car passing in
the opposite direction ran him off the road, faces in the car's
windows laughing as he swerved. "I told Kevin often, 'You stay
off that road,'" he says.
On the afternoon of Sept. 15, however, Kevin and his teammates,
still abuzz from that morning's run, were talking about a road
trip down to Fort Collins. Those in the group who thought about
Highway 287's dangers figured what everyone figures: not me.
The 60-mile stretch between Fort Collins and Laramie attracts
lead-footed truckers, overaggressive students and anyone willing
to brave its two- (and occasionally three-) lane liabilities for
the sake of a shortcut. The road is deceptive. It's easily driven
in daylight and dry weather, but night and Wyoming's mercurial
climate alter the equation. Since 1990, 28 people have died just
on the 21-mile stretch from the Colorado border to Laramie. "It's
a death trap," Laramie mayor Joe Shumway says of 287. "There's
something wrong there."
Too often the wrong finds its way to the Wyoming athletic
department. In the last 17 years crashes on 287 have killed a
Cowboys football player and a former golfer, left another former
football player paralyzed, caused permanent brain injuries to a
volleyball coach and left a former female basketball player
unable to walk without two canes. In 1992 Debra Shaw, the wife of
Gordon Shaw, a Cowboys assistant football coach at the time, was
driving her minivan on 287 with two of their three young
daughters when the van was hit and thrown into a ditch. All
survived, but Debra was hospitalized for five weeks, and nine
years later Aubrey Shaw, who was six months old at the time of
the accident, still has only limited use of her right hand.
"I don't drive it," university president Philip Dubois says of
287. "Fort Collins is one of the amenities we point to: a pretty
nice-sized city within a short drive. Unfortunately, the drive is
Still, it wasn't in Kevin Salverson, a jocular 19-year-old
sophomore, to tell anyone to stay off a particular road. He'd
say, "Go with the flow," and though he had enough competitive
fire to go more than a year in high school without losing an
800-meter heat, his dad was always startled to see how Kevin
could shut down the fire. He wasn't one to worry or fear. Not,
especially, on a night when the flow felt so good.
At 3:30 a.m. on Sept. 16, two hours after the accident, Jennifer
Vessa, a 20-year-old junior and the university's best
cross-country runner last year, was returning from Denver on 287.
Like her teammates, Vessa had no fear about driving that night.
Much of her trip had been slowed by fog, but the sky above Tie
Siding was clear. Police cars sat at angles across the road.
Vessa detoured down the side of the highway, into a ditch and up
again, past spotlights glinting off bent metal and shattered
glass. Cody Brown was her best friend. She'd known Morgan
McLeland since seventh grade. She'd gone out with Shane Shatto.
She had no idea then that she was passing them, and for the last
time. These days Vessa is scared to sleep, because she'll dream
about them and not want to wake.
The prosecution has made the court appearances of Clint Haskins
into a parade of damning evidence. Court documents show that
Haskins has a history of scrapes with the law involving drinking:
In November 1998 and January 2000 he was cited in Laramie as a
minor under the influence of alcohol. State trooper Dave
Rettinger, one of the officers at the Tie Siding crash site,
testified on Sept. 26 that Haskins was driving with an expired
license on the night of the crash and that the ambulance he rode
in afterward "reeked" of alcohol. Investigators also testified
that Nick Schabron was driving his Jeep at 62 mph and in the
proper lane, while Haskins was going 76 when he crossed over the
line to meet it.
None of this comes as a surprise to anyone familiar with Wyoming.
The state has one of the highest levels of underage drinking in
the nation, and its liberal open-container policies allow alcohol
to be consumed in automobiles. Before setting out on that
Saturday night, Schabron, a 20-year-old sophomore, told his
mother, Joan, that he'd be driving a group to Fort Collins. When
she begged him to be careful, he assured her he wouldn't drink.
(His autopsy blood-alcohol level would be 0.00.) "It's not you
I'm worried about," Joan told her son. "It's some drunk driver."
At the funeral the palms of Nick's hands still bore the imprint
of the steering wheel. He was the only passenger not thrown from
the Jeep. Since the accident public meetings have been held about
widening 287, but the victims' families worry that the road's
reputation will obscure the crash's true cause.
"When someone drinks and drives it is intentional," Schabron's
brother Greg wrote in a letter to the Laramie Daily Boomerang on
Sept. 30. "A person doesn't accidentally get drunk, drive his
truck without a license down the highway on the wrong side of the
road. [Haskins] made his decision when he turned the ignition to
that truck, and now he must accept the consequences of his
The crash at Tie Siding has propelled people in Laramie, only 16
miles to the north, and beyond into a frenzy of self-examination,
with both the state's image as a bastion of macho self-reliance
and its conservative political establishment coming under fire.
The tragedy sliced to the heart of Laramie with no less emotional
force than the gay-bashing murder of Wyoming freshman Matthew
Shepard in 1998. Alcohol abuse has replaced intolerance as the
issue of the moment. "When eight students die, it's a wake-up
call," Shumway says. "Laramie is not a cowboy town anymore."
Greg Schabron knows. These days, Laramie is the university. Greg,
Nick and the six other Schabron kids grew up in the town's
mainstream. Greg, who graduated last spring, was an all-MWC
runner and is sure that Nick could have surpassed him. In the
weeks since the accident, Greg has run every day, sometimes with
the surviving Cowboys, spending as much time with the team as he
did his final two years as a student. He's thinking of training
for a spot in the 2004 Olympic trials. He has never felt faster.
"I don't know how to explain it," says Greg. "The pain doesn't
hurt as much anymore. I don't think about running when I'm
running. I think about the guys."
It's when he stops that the pain returns. On Sept. 15, Nick had
asked Greg if he could borrow Greg's Chevy Suburban, which was
bigger and sturdier than the Wagoneer. Greg turned him down.
"Part of me wants to get in a car and just disappear," he says.
Just before 11 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11, Haskins rose in an
upstairs courtroom at the Albany County Courthouse in Laramie and
pleaded not guilty. The Schabron and Shatto families were there,
and so was Karen Perkins, the mother of 21-year-old senior Cody
Brown. With her own mother beside her, Perkins wore a button on
her chest, the one with a black winged foot with an "8" in the
middle. "I wanted him to see me," she says of Haskins. "I wanted
him to see my heart broken."
Haskins hasn't dropped out of sight. He's back in class at
Wyoming, awaiting a February trial that, with a 20-year maximum
sentence on each count, could put him away until the year 2162.
"I don't think there's any question his life has been ruined,"
Dubois says, "and that's not something we should minimize."
Howard, the Cowboys rodeo coach, echoes the university president.
"He's got to live with those eight deaths," he says of Haskins.
"That's traumatic enough. Now they want to put another 160 years
on him?" (Neither Haskins's family nor his lawyer responded to
requests for comment for this article.)
Dubois was stunned to learn a week after the accident that
Haskins, an agricultural business major set to graduate this
spring, would be returning to his studies a few days later.
Dubois worried that students would seek reprisals. So far there
have been no incidents. None of the parents of the eight runners
have demanded that Haskins rot in jail for life. They ricochet
between forgiveness and rage, sadness and shock so often that
they don't know what they feel.
The day after hearing their son had been killed, Justin
Lambert-Belanger's parents came across a high school essay in
which he had written, "I want to change the way people are....
Maybe I could make [films] that would change the way men see
women or the way murder victims' families see their loved ones'
"It's like he left us a message: Don't hold on to it," says Lucie
Haskins hasn't apologized for his actions on Sept. 16--his bond
agreement forbids him to contact the victims' families--and his
not-guilty plea and return to school have shaken the families.
More than anything, they want him to take responsibility. "At
this point I think this would be fair: that he spend at least 40
years in jail," says Richard Johnson, father of Kyle. "That would
[release] him at age 60, and most likely his parents would have
died and he would never have children. He denied us a lot. He
took away our child."
What Karen Perkins wants is something she can hardly articulate.
Disaster imbued her son Cody Brown with a great compassion. When
he was six, nearly two years after his parents' divorce, his dad
committed suicide. As Cody drifted into adolescence, Karen
worried that he too might consider killing himself. No, her son
told her, he had no desire to die. He never quite grew up--trading
Pokemon cards and collecting GI Joes to the end--but he was also
drawn to people in pain. Sanchez's wife, Veronica, was stricken
with cancer five years ago, and Cody later adopted the family,
taking care of their teenage daughter, Amanda, as if she were his
"I was in the hospital in Denver, and I'd always worry, Who's
taking care of my kids?" says Veronica. "But Cody would say,
'I've got it covered, Roni. Get better.' He'd show up and say, 'I
wanted to see how you were.' Or call: 'I know Coach is going to
be busy. Do you need anything?'"
Karen is an office coordinator for a pediatric dentist in Hudson,
Colo., and in the summer of 2000, Cody accompanied her boss to
Romania to help treat the teeth of children, many of them
orphans, stricken with AIDS. Cody came back determined to go to
dental school and then go on missions like the one to Romania for
the rest of his life. In the weeks after Sept. 16, Karen would
impulsively call Cody's cell phone, hoping for...she doesn't
know what she was hoping for.
After Haskins pleaded innocent, Karen waited outside the
courtroom. When Haskins emerged, he looked her in the eye and
said, "Hello." Her mind spun: Did he just say that? Yes, he did.
She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She felt her mother
grab her and pull her away. She needed her mother. The man who
killed her son had just said hello.
No one who knows a distance runner can be surprised: Although the
crash crippled the Wyoming cross-country team, leaving it with
only three members--four shy of the official minimum for
competition--there was little thought of suspending the season.
Everyone knew the team had to go on, not for rah-rah reasons but
because to those who endure the miles, running is no pastime or
hobby or, God knows, a path to making money as a pro athlete.
Running is who they are. Running is how they talk to and about
themselves. After the first ugly hours of that Sunday morning,
after the who and the how many had finally been confirmed, Greg
Schabron and his former teammate Chris Jons, the Cowboys'
captain, drove to the Happy Jack trails above Laramie and raced
in silence through the paths of the forest.
"Runners run," Jons says. "It's how we deal with stress. It's
where we talk with God. Whenever something goes wrong, runners
Distance runners run: Nine hundred, 1,000, sometimes even 1,200
miles a summer, the equivalent of nearly four marathons a week.
Runners tinker: with stride, with training methods, with
footwear. It's no coincidence that at Wyoming most of the
cross-country runners study engineering or the sciences--and last
year's team GPA was 3.78. They're computer geeks at heart, and
the machine they're most interested in is the human body. They
want to make it as efficient as possible under the most trying
conditions, and on the trail they need one another to monitor the
thing they can't see: themselves. Because training takes so much
time, the runners usually live and study together.
At schools like Wyoming, there's the chance for a runner to boil
his life to the essence and live in a world of common obsession.
At 20, Kyle Johnson had achieved the runner's nirvana. School
came so easily to him--a straight-A junior civil-engineering
major, he got the first B of his life last semester in a
microbiology course--that he could pour all his energy into the
sport. Clothes, looks, all the things that obsess so many of his
peers, held no value for Kyle. His hair flopped over his head
like a demolished bird's nest. He radiated a sincerity that
leaves friends crying at the mention of his name.
In August, Johnson had his picture taken with his grandfather
who'd run track at Wyoming two generations earlier, and by then
the grandson had arranged his days exactly the way he wanted
them. He ran furiously over the summer, working long hours in a
lab and then logging more than 900 miles in nightly runs across
his hometown of Riverton, Wyo. He'd had a couple dates with a
girl, and, as his father says, "This was a big accomplishment."
Before long, though, the girl was gone, and when his parents
asked why, Kyle cheerily summed it up. "This is my life," he
said. "I work, I run and I sit on my ass."
On the wall of his bedroom Johnson had pinned an essay by Brutus
Hamilton, the renowned track coach at Cal from 1933 to '65, that
said, in part, "When you see 20 or 30 young men line up for a
distance race in some meet, don't pity them.... These are the
days of their youth, when they can run without weariness; these
are their buoyant, golden days; and they are running because they
The race is over before it begins. The Cowboys show up in
Boulder, Colo., on this crystalline Saturday morning, Oct. 6, to
compete for the first time since the crash, and that is a
victory. They are decimated. The three surviving runners--Delaney,
Jons and freshman Arte Huhn--are here, as well as two activated
redshirts and three middle-distance runners who are in no shape
to run against powerhouse Colorado or much of the rest of the
field at the Rocky Mountain Shootout. Four sprinters from the
Wyoming women's track team have come to run the women's race in
support. "I guess I can't label them candy-asses anymore,"
He smiles. This is after the 8K race, and Sanchez is groping for
something, anything, good to latch on to. All morning it has been
a scene of unrelieved sorrow. Some of his runners wear stickers
commemorating the dead; some have fresh tattoos on their legs or
backs. On the backs of his training shoes Huhn has scrawled I
WILL NEVER FORGET YOU GUYS. Delaney, nursing a sprained ankle,
crosses the line first for the Cowboys, finishing eighth in the
Division I standings with a 27:10. The others straggle in one by
one, the team finishing third out of four Division I squads.
Afterward a stream of runners from all over the West stops by to
comfort with a pat or a word. "I see the kids, I feel for them, I
cry," Sanchez says, and then he begins to do just that.
Over the last few years, the coach has taken a pounding. Leaflets
around Laramie still offer a $50,000 reward for information about
Amy Wroe Bechtel, one of his former runners, who disappeared
while jogging in the Wind River Mountains in 1997, and last
summer another cross-country alum, Erin Engle, died base-jumping
from a mountain in the Italian Alps. "These are my boys!" Sanchez
cried at the Sept. 25 memorial service for the eight who died at
Tie Siding. "I never say, 'It can't get any worse,'" he says now.
"I never say that anymore."
His only regret, he says, is never having gone fly-fishing with
Morgan McLeland. "Morgan, oh, the kid loved to fish," Sanchez
says. McLeland, a junior, was a special case. The brother of a
former Wyoming runner, he'd come to Laramie as one of the state's
most highly touted high school stars, a cross-country champion
for powerhouse Campbell County High in Gillette. However, stress
fractures in his legs plagued him his first two years in Laramie,
and he hadn't come close to being a force. Yet you could never
count him out. McLeland struggled with a reading disability all
the way into high school, but he learned to compensate for it and
decided he wanted to teach. "He was a spectacular guy, always
happy, a constant smile on his face," says Delaney, McLeland's
best friend. When McLeland heard that a runner from his high
school would surely break his state 5K course record this fall,
he said, "That's what should happen, and I'm going to be there to
see it." The day before he died, McLeland told Sanchez he'd
beaten his injury and would again be the runner he had been.
Five weeks after the crash, McLeland's course record was broken
in Douglas. Sanchez was there, recruiting. A five-time conference
coach of the year, he has shaped 14 All-Americas, and his 1995
team was ranked 11th in the nation. Nevertheless, Sanchez is one
of the few Wyoming head coaches without a university car. "He's
been so good to my kids," says Debbie McLeland. "More than a
coach: He's been a father." That's why, a few hours after their
son's record was broken, Debbie and her husband, Jim, signed a
piece of paper and handed it to Sanchez. Then they handed him the
keys to Morgan's truck. "He needed one," Debbie says. Now when
Sanchez goes fly-fishing, Morgan can take him.
At 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 25, a car and a pickup truck rolled
to a stop at mile marker 417 on Highway 287, a few hundred yards
south of Tie Siding. Inside were Kerry Shatto and his wife,
Margo; their four parents; their daughter and surviving son; and
Kerry's brother. Kerry got out and walked in the ditch alongside
the pavement, kicking the scrubby grass and beer cans. His
father, Earl, gathered pieces of the shattered Jeep Wagoneer--door
latches, shards of plastic--but Kerry kept waiting for a gust of
wind, a breath, a sound: some kind of sign from Shane. Did he
know? Did he feel it? Did he have time to scream? Kerry got
Two years ago Shane, at 18, had become the youngest firefighter
in Wyoming. He badgered his dad and brother to volunteer too. The
brother, Brady, became a cadet, and Kerry became a firefighter,
jazzed like Shane by the beeper calls, the rush to the Douglas
station, the dispassionate analysis of disaster. In July, Shane
had helped pull the body of a 16-year-old Douglas boy through a
car's rear window. He liked being responsible.
A high school state champion in the half mile, Shane didn't run
cross-country during his freshman year at Wyoming, but he showed
up last January in Sanchez's office. Over the summer he ran
nearly 700 miles. "He'd get up at five in the morning; run to
work across town five, six miles; get dressed; and stay there
till four," Kerry says. "Come home, take a nap, take a shower and
run again. He did that every day."
This season Shane, a sophomore with freshman eligibility,
surprised Sanchez. "All of a sudden he was the second man on our
team," the coach says. "I grinned and told myself, This guy's the
ace up our sleeve. Nobody knows about him."
Story of his life: Shatto was always coming out of nowhere on
people. He worked harder and beat boys he had no business
beating. The space between his pectoral muscles was convex rather
than concave, and friends called it his "third boob." Shatto
didn't mind. He'd laugh and try to imbue everyone around him with
his fire. When personal problems left his good friend Brannon
McCullough unmotivated, Shane assumed responsibility. Every day
he got up 30 minutes early to make sure his friend went to class.
On Tuesday, Sept. 18, the afternoon before their son's funeral,
Kerry and Margo went to see Shane. Kerry still wasn't sure his
son was gone: His face had scars, but you couldn't see the
cracked skull from the front. Kerry lowered his hand onto his
son's chest, right on the point, the deformity that--everyone
says--had been inevitable because Shane's heart was so big. For
the first time, Kerry knew.
By the following Monday, the stream of visitors to the Shattos'
house began to slow, and Kerry went into his garage and began to
work. His father had given him one wooden board, and Margo's dad
had given him the other. For seven hours, Kerry sanded, routed,
notched and nailed, blinking away the sawdust and tears. He
painted and repainted until it looked just right. At 1:30 a.m.,
the time of the crash, the cross was finished. "This was as close
to building a coffin as I could get," Kerry says. "I wanted to
build something for my son."
The next day, at Tie Siding, Kerry and his family finished
kicking through the dust of Mile 417 and then thrust a steel
stake into the ground and mounted the white cross before a
barbed-wire fence. in memory of the 8, it reads. The names, all
painted black, are carved into the wood: SHANE CODY NICK KYLE
JOSHUA JUSTIN KEVIN MORGAN. The wind blows unendingly out there,
and cars and trucks whip loudly past. Come winter, the ground and
everything on it will be buried under snow.
Everyone worries about Chris Jons. In the first few weeks after
the crash, he slept two hours a night. He's got a partially torn
hamstring, nerve damage in one foot and a knee that clicks every
time he bends it, but he's running as hard as ever. He survived a
wreck himself about a year and a half ago. He's trying to be
strong. No one is fooled. "He doesn't want to show it," says Greg
Schabron, "but it shows more on him than on anybody else."
Jons is the perfect captain, 23 years old going on 50, one of
those people who love being in charge. He's the man who organized
team dinners and the freshman initiations, the road trips to
Saratoga, Wyo., the naked runs. The night of the crash, Jons had
gone camping. It was his first night in weeks away from his
At a candlelight vigil on campus the Monday after the accident,
Jons stood in the rain amid all that flickering light. He stared
at the photographs of the eight, propped up at the base of the
Cowboy statue, and he watched everyone drift away as the hours
passed. He stayed all night, staring at the pictures, and when
the sun crested the mountains, he went for a run.
"If I'd been there, it would've been different," Jons says of the
night of the accident. "We'd have left earlier; we'd have left
later; we'd have gone to Saratoga; we'd be in two cars instead of
one. I can't change it, but it still hurts. Those guys would've
followed me off a cliff. It's like I let them down. If I could
trade myself for eight, I would. It would be an easy trade."
He is driving along the course of the team's last run, the
12-mile route up in the Snowy Mountains. Here's where we started,
at Fox Park, Jons says. Here's the lookout point. Here's Lake
Owen. Here are the sun-washed plains and the air like cool water.
Here is Wyoming. Jons loves it all, though these days he's
convinced that life sucks and soon another disaster will tear
through Laramie and the nation, too.
"All of us here are still hurting, but they don't care," he says
of his departed teammates. "Josh is up there talking to
Prefontaine, and the first thing I know Josh said to him was,
'Hey, dude, I died in a car crash too.' Kyle's saying, 'Guys,
let's not talk track, but how do you think I'm going to run this
week?' Morgan's telling God that he's got a stress fracture and
needs a bone scan; Cody's doing a little dance; Shane's sitting
there grinning; Justin's not saying much; and Kevin and Nick are
just goofy, wrestling and kicking each other and enjoying
themselves. And on Saturdays they're getting ready to run--even if
they don't want to."
He stops the truck at the lake, where that Saturday run came to
an end and they munched bananas and began planning the road trip.
Lambert-Belanger and Schabron had gone down to the waterline to
skip stones. Jons walks to the edge. Clouds hover above. "The sun
was shining through," he says. "I remember that."
Snowflakes spin into his hair. Jons picks up a rock, hurls it and
waits for the splash. He doesn't move. Runners run, but only old
runners know that life has a way of catching up to you. Then all
you can do is stand there and take it.
The world, they loved to say, is divided between distance
runners and candy-asses.
Seven of the runners catapulted from the Jeep and landed as far
as 100 feet away.
Kerry waited for a sign: Did Shane know? Did he have time to
"If I could trade myself for eight, I would," says Jons. "It
would be an easy trade."
The parents of the runners ricochet between forgiveness and
rage, sadness and shock.
"Runners run," Jons says. "It's how we deal with stress. It's
where we talk with God."