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The night Huntington died
By Amy Wilson
Lexington Herald-Leader

There are things about that night that, 36 years later, still matter.

Of course it matters that 75 people died. That boys who were barely adults never got to finish their lives. That women were left husbandless. That children were left parentless. That a university was crippled by the blow. That a town still struggles under the weight of it all.

There are those who remember still the smell of the hillside burning as the weather worsened and the news worsened along with it.

On Nov. 14, 1970, about 7:35 p.m., Southern Airways Flight 932, a plane chartered by the Marshall University football program for a return trip from a game in North Carolina, went down just short of Huntington, W.Va.'s Tri-State Airport. The DC-9 was on its final approach when it struck the tops of trees only 5,543 feet west of the runway. The plane cut a swath 95 feet wide and 279 feet long before it, consumed by fire, stopped of its own accord.

When the fire was spent, the fuselage had melted or had been reduced to what the National Transportation Safety Board called "a powder-like substance." Some bodies on board never were matched up with names.

The NTSB reported, in its official and distant way, that "the accident was unsurvivable."

Yet there are survivors.

The movie We Are Marshall comes out Friday. It tells the story of the crash and the rebuilding of the football program at Marshall in 1971.

It will try to heave sense and meaning, even moral victory, out of the "powder-like substance."

Those who lived it have been been trying to do that every day since.

The reporter at the scene

Craig Ammerman was, at only 22, the Associated Press news editor for West Virginia, based in Charleston. He had been AP's Huntington correspondent and had covered all kinds of doings at Marshall, including its then-recent recruiting violations, problems that had resulted in the school being tossed out of the Mid-America Conference.

Rick Tolley, the Marshall coach, talked to Ammerman the week before the team's game against East Carolina University. Tolley had an extra seat on the chartered plane. It was the first time that year the team had flown, and it would be full of fans and a lot of fun.

Ammerman had a date he wanted to keep with a girl from Yeager, W.Va., who was a senior at Marshall. He considered her "a more worthwhile pursuit," he says, than watching the Thundering Herd try to get their thunder back.

Ammerman thought Tolley was "a breath of fresh air, a good guy." He knew the kids on the plane and had even done a big story on their new quarterback, Ted Shoebridge, a guy who looked like Hollywood's idea of the quarterback who wins the game and saves the day.

Ammerman was busy Nov. 14 covering football elsewhere and was about to call it a night when he realized he didn't have his wallet. He went back to his office to pick it up.

The phone rang. He answered it. Ammerman was told there was a small plane down in Huntington.

Ammerman called the Huntington police, who, he says, "told me they didn't know anything but you knew they knew something but just weren't saying it."

Who would know, he asked himself.

He remembered he'd done a story on a big-deal amateur Huntington golfer and sometime pilot named Bill Campbell. Campbell had told Ammerman that in his spare time he listened to the airport scanner. Ammerman called him.

Do you know about a plane crash at Tri-State? he asked.

I do.

Is it the Marshall football team?

It is.

Ammerman called back the Huntington police. "I told them I was at the Huntington Herald-Dispatch and that I could see small fires all over the side of that hill by the airport."

They said, "We know."

Ammerman put the news bulletin out within the hour for all the world to see. Going against every rule in journalism, he decided to go on the word of one source.

He wrote that a plane went down outside Huntington and that it was carrying the Marshall University football team.

The coach's wife

Mary Jane Tolley was a football fan even before she met the man who would become her husband. She loved the life of a coach's wife. Married eight years, they still weren't settling down to have kids, so she almost always traveled with Rick and whatever team he was coaching.

Rick Tolley was just 29 when he was named the youngest head coach in the history of Division I football in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. He was a coal miner's son. Mary Jane was a Virginia belle whose daddy was teaching at the University of Virginia. They should never have fit, but they did.

At the last minute before Rick and the team left for East Carolina, Mary Jane decided to stay home with the couple's German shepherd, Sturmish. The vet had told the Tolleys that the 1-year-old puppy had a tumor. He advised watching her closely.

Mary Jane was home alone when the news of the crash flashed across her TV screen.

The coach's best friend

Dean Blake had just been to Huntington that Thursday. He and his best friend, Rick Tolley, had reviewed football game film until late. Blake and Tolley had been thrown together as college roommates at Virginia Tech. They'd lived in an apartment with some other guys. Called it Happy Acres. Bought a 1953 blue Chevy together and called it Blue Heaven. Knew each other's lives backward and forward.

Late that Thursday, Blake left Tolley at his football office and went home to South Charleston.

When he heard about the crash, Blake and his wife, Judy, drove very fast the 45 miles to Huntington. On their way to the airport, as if by instinct, they drove to the Tolleys' first. Blake didn't know Rick was dead. He thought Mary Jane was with Rick.

Mary Jane answered the door. Then they knew everything.

Orphaned by the crash

Jeff Heath's parents left Friday night on a plane to Greenville, N.C. They were Marshall fans but they didn't usually travel to see the team play. But Herbert and Josephine Proctor, their best friends, had found some available tickets -- for $50 each -- and the foursome decided to go. Jeff's dad was especially excited.

Nineteen-year-old Jeff Heath, a Marshall University sophomore, thought this was great news. Living in an apartment behind his parents' house, he took advantage of their absence and threw a party that Friday.

"I had the world by the tail," he says. "I was dating a beautiful girl. I was in a fraternity. I was without much to worry about."

Out with a friend that Saturday night, Heath saw a TV news bulletin that broke into the regular programming.

He had his mother's car, a souped-up Ford Mustang. At speeds topping 100 mph, he made for the airport.

Once there, no one let him near the crash site. No one heard him say who he was. No one saw a 19-year-old boy lift the soul-wearing burden of raising his younger siblings onto his shoulders before he drove home.

Only years later would Heath discover that his little brother, Kevin, only 11 at the time and alone at home, had seen the TV news, too, and had spent more than an hour sitting in a dark closet by himself waiting for the rest of the world to end.

A confident young player

Libby Pack's son, Roger Vanover, hadn't really wanted to go very far from home. So he picked Marshall, only 15 to 20 minutes from his home in Russell, Ky.

The middle of three sons, Roger was a mama's boy, says his mother.

He was going to marry a girl from Louisa he'd been in love with since he was 6. He had plans to become a football coach himself one day.

Roger called Pack the Thursday night before the big Saturday game in North Carolina. He told her he was a little bit hurt and the coaches were saying he wasn't likely to play. Roger, ever confident that things would go his way, told his mother not to count on that.

"You watch the papers. I'm gonna make the headlines on Sunday."

His name was on the list of those dead in the crash. Authorities didn't identify his body until dental records confirmed it much later.

He made the news that day, too.

No patience for platitudes

The last thing Mary Jane Tolley wanted to hear was that "it was meant to be" or that "it was God's will" or that "things turn out for the best."

She leaned heavily on her friends, the Blakes, and on a Catholic priest attached to the school.

"He just called me and told me I could call him any time and say anything and I did."

She had nightmares. She took Sturmish, the dog, with her everywhere she went. She kept the newspapers from that day, but doesn't know what happened to them. She never remarried. In the Richmond, Va., phone book, she is still listed in her husband's name. The German shepherd, Sturmish, lived to be 13. He was her main solace for all those years after the crash.

Tolley says she went through all the emotions. The summer after the crash, she sold her house and moved away because everyone she knew well in that town had died the previous November. She says it was her way of acknowledging that Rick wasn't coming back to her, their dog, their life and their house.

She says they would have had children.

She says she's OK. That she went on with her life.

"It was a lifetime ago," she says, as if stoicism will someday pay her back for all she's lost.

Holding up each other

As shattered as Dean Blake was by the death of his best friend Rick, the only thing left to do for him was take care of Mary Jane. He says he probably helped in those first few years, but Mary Jane did fine after that. They remain very close.

Still, the only reason Blake, now a Frankfort asphalt company executive, went to the star-studded premiere of We Are Marshall in Huntington last week was "to be there in case she needs me."

Not long after Rick's death, Mary Jane gave Blake a silk maroon and black robe that her husband wore. Blake still has it.

Not a day goes by without Blake thinking of Rick.

"I can see Rick in my mind, and he is always in the prime of his life."

The comfort that provides is slim grace, but grace nevertheless.

Sudden responsibilities

Elliott and Elaine Heath were both 42. They had done the right thing as parents of four kids. They'd arranged for longtime friends, Herbert and Josephine Proctor, to take the children in the unlikely event they died together. But the Proctors died on the plane along with the Heaths.

Jeff's younger sister Kathy Heath, 18, was married with a 1-month-old child. Holly was 15. Kevin was 11.

Social services never came to ponder how the family would be split. Grandparents came but they left. Most of Jeff's parents' friends were on the plane. Some acquaintances made overtures but they didn't want to interfere.

Two people came that day to help and never left: Sally Wolfe, the 19-year-old girlfriend who had broken up with Jeff at the party he'd had the night before the crash, and sister Holly's 15-year-old boyfriend, Marc Wild.

Jeff simply said the family would stay together in that house, and they did. He picked out coffins for his parents. He took grief from grandparents, who said he'd picked out the wrong ones.

A Huntington banker named Jim Perry explained to Heath that the family had enough money and he would help them in whatever way he could. He bought the family a Christmas tree six weeks after the crash and -- somehow, some way -- made sure the draft board didn't come to get Jeff, who had a low lottery number in the midst of the Vietnam War.

Heath moved home immediately. He established what authority he could. He worked part-time at the muffler shop his father had owned. He continued to go to school. Every Friday night, he either went to a fraternity party or he grocery shopped. He cooked a lot of hot dogs, grilled a lot of steak, heated up a few frozen cherry pies. He harped on "eating your vegetables."

He had never done laundry, but he learned, even to the point that he read which detergent was the most planet-friendly and bought it. He'd raise Cain about the bills put on a charge account at the local convenience store when Kevin would buy after-school snacks for everybody. He chose shag carpet and plaid wallpaper when asked to decide the big things.

It was occasionally brought to his attention, and loudly, "You're not my dad."

When Kevin was the starting quarterback for the high school team, though, it was Jeff who walked on the field with him on Parents' Night.

"Jeff had no time to grieve," says Sally Heath, at that time still Sally Wolfe, his girlfriend.

He did everything else for everyone else. For himself, only this: He took flying lessons at Tri-State Airport. He would not, he vowed, grow up afraid to fly. Every time he went up there, he would look for the char left by the crash, but nature had grown over it quickly, and he stopped looking down.

In 1975, Jeff married Sally and the two of them returned to the Heath family home to finish raising Jeff's siblings.

"I loved helping," Sally says simply.

Jeff says Marc Wild, then so young but so wise, had helped Jeff's siblings when they went looking for a father and Jeff wouldn't do. Wild married Holly after he finished dental school.

Sally and Jeff, who live in Lexington now, gave their daughter his mother's name, Elaine. They named their son Marshall.

When Jeff turned 43, he realized he had lived longer than his parents. And he began to watch and note everything they'd missed from that point on.

He allows that he feels a bit cheated out of his college experience, but more than that, he was cheated "out of having my mother there," he says.

He is sorry that they never saw the man he became. He is talking about the one he is at 55, not the one he became at 19. That was just "what was necessary," a reflection of how they'd raised him, he guesses.

His parents missed seeing their grandchildren.

And these days, Heath says, "I pray that I see mine."

Dateline Huntington

Craig Ammerman didn't sleep for three days. At the crash site, he'd seen body parts, smelled burning flesh. He used the governor of West Virginia's car telephone to get the story out faster.

He'd run into a fellow reporter who, at the request of NTSB investigators who had no other choice, had put the voice recording from the cockpit in his rental car trunk. Together, the two journalists had tried to find a locksmith to break it open. They hadn't succeeded.

On Sunday, for the newspaper of Monday, Nov. 16, Ammerman wrote a story that was datelined Huntington. It began: "This town died today."

It was the first time anyone would suggest that the sadness of this tragedy might change the course of a community. It would be two years before the NTSB would change some rules because of the crash -- rules such as pilot familiarity with airports, height of obstacles to glidepaths. But it would be decades before the crash would be recognized as a demarcation between a thriving Huntington and one that is in population and commercial decline.

Still, it was a story that helped Ammerman's career. It put him on a track that saw him become the executive editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin and then own his own publishing company.

He never forgot those days, or the stark fact that he was not but one or two years older than the boys on the team. And that he got to have a life after Nov. 14, 1970.

As if to emphatically prove that life went on, to rail against the gods who had allowed a whole passel of young men to perish, Ammerman found the girl who was supposed to go out with him that Saturday night.

Three days and without any sleep, "in my depleted mental state," he says now, he asked that girl to marry him.

They'll celebrate 35 years of marriage in June.

A pain that never goes away

Libby Pack has emphysema and cannot walk up the hill to her child's grave. No woman should outlive her children, she says.

It is, beyond any illness, the greatest punishment there is.

It makes no difference how Roger died, she says. It only matters that he did.

At 74, she will not have to bear it much longer, she says, sounding, for a moment, almost glad.




Cavs ranked 10th in preseason poll
By Jay Jenkins / | 978-7247
December 23, 2006

It took 19 wins and a series sweep over a national powerhouse for the Virginia baseball team to climb into the national rankings last year.

The Cavaliers will not have to wait that long this season.

Virginia baseball coach Brian O’Connor received the news with some reservation.

“It is a nice credit to what our players have accomplished over the last couple of years,” O’Connor said, “but the bottom line is that we have to go out and win on the field during the season.”

O’Connor mentioned the 2006 season to prove his point.

After sweeping a three-game series at Davenport Field from Clemson, the Cavaliers were ranked in four Division I polls and climbed as high as fifth at one point.

“It is nice that a publication feels as though you have good players and can have a great season, but just like last year, you have to go out and earn it on the field,” O’Connor said.

Rice and Clemson were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.

In addition to Clemson and UVa, the ACC boasts six teams among the top 13 in the poll - No. 5 North Carolina, No. 6 Miami, No. 11 Georgia Tech and No. 13 Florida State - while two other schools (N.C. State and Wake Forest) received votes.

“The ACC was the top-ranked conference last year, and this year should be no different,” O’Connor said.

Virginia set program records last year in overall wins (47) and conference wins (21). The Cavaliers advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season but were eliminated in the Charlottesville Regional following losses to South Carolina (ranked No. 3 in the preseason poll) and Evansville (No. 22).

Virginia opens practice in the middle of January and starts its season Feb. 9 against Elon at the Coastal Carolina Tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C.




Minter contributes to Cavalier woes
Annual recruiting package coming Monday
By Doug Doughty

Before turning to the recruiting news of the week, I can’t help but pass along the mind-boggling statistic of the day.

For people who follow the Virginia men’s basketball program or are at least aware of the Cavaliers’ misadventures in Puerto Rico, consider the following:

Donte Minter, who played one season at Virginia before transferring last December, had 27 points in 23 minutes Thursday night as Appalachian State defeated Vanderbilt in overtime, 87-79, in the San Juan Shootout.

The Commodores’ leading scorer was none other than Derrick Byars, another ex-Virginia player, who had 18 points against the Mountaineers. Byars would have completed his eligibility by now if he had stayed at Virginia, but you wonder how much a healthy Minter might have helped a stagnant UVa inside game.

Minter had knee problems that prevented him from playing under Dave Leitao during the fall semester in 2005-2006 and his frustration carried into his academics, but he was able to strengthen his knee through rehabilitation and did not require surgery, an Appalachian State official said.

Minter had nine points in nine minutes in Appalachian’s 80-69 victory over Virginia in the first round and finished with 49 points in three tournament. He was named co-MVP without starting a game and playing only 53 of a possible 125 minutes.

Virginia, on the other hand, had to settle for a seventh-place finish after holding off Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, a winless Division II team, 59-52.

REGARDING FOOTBALL RECRUITING, it appears there has been some confusion over The Roanoke Times recruiting package that appears annually on Christmas Day.

There is a preseason ranking of the state’s top 40 prospects that currently is posted on, but Monday’s newspaper will bring new lists of the state’s top 100 seniors and top 25 juniors.

At some point before New Year’s, we hope to have that list posted on

Commitments have come earlier and earlier in recent years and this year’s class continues that trend. The top 22 players on the preseason list already have made oral commitments.

For Virginia and Virginia Tech, news this week pertains to decommitments, another trend in recent years. Virginia has lost Brad Hallick, a 6-6, 275-pound offensive lineman from Pottsville, Pa., to Stanford. Tech has lost Ladi Ajiboye, a 6-2, 290-pound defensive tackle from College Park, Ga., to South Carolina.

Ironically, Ajiboye committed to South Carolina in the winter of 2005-2006, only to change his mind after visiting Blacksburg one week later. When Ajiboye did not meet NCAA eligibility guidelines, he enrolled at Hargrave Military Academy, where he made the required test score this fall.

He could have enrolled at Tech in January but apparently will go to South Carolina.

“That’s what I’ve heard, but he never said anything to me,” Hargrave coach Robert Prunty said Friday. “When he left our place [for Christmas break], he was committed to Virginia Tech.

“I can’t go home with them. One thing I would like to say for quote is, he never visited another school while he was at Hargrave.”

Despite being listed at 6-2, Ajiboye looked to be closer to 6 feet. He had an odd-shaped body and, privately, the Hokies may not have been too upset to lose him. It frees up a much-needed scholarship for the half-dozen or so recruits still on their list.

As for Hallick, he had been committed to Virginia since May 31 but had made no secret of his intentions to visit Stanford. At the end, the Cavaliers may have grown weary of having to baby-sit him, but a similar situation took place last year with Mark Herzlich and his play for Boston College this past season suggests that he could have helped the Cavaliers.

WHILE PROVIDING SOME material on Virginia Tech quarterback recruit Tyrod Taylor, Hampton High School coach Mike Smith said Friday that he has been pushing the Hokies to take another Crabber, first-team All-Group AAA linebacker Jacobi Fenner.

“I know there are three or four I-AA programs after him,” Smith said, “but he’s got his heart set on Tech. He’s the best defensive player in the state, bar none.”

The problem with Fenner is, he’s only 5-9 and 190 pounds. He’d have to play cornerback or safety at the Division I-A level, but another former Crabber, Myron Newsome, was 5-10, 205 when he came to Tech in the mid-1990s after two seasons at Butler County (Kan.) Community College.

“He’s [Fenner] not quite as thick as Myron,” Smith said, “but, you know, Jacobi has been coached by Myron. Myron would love to see him at Tech.”

Smith said that one of his underclassmen, 6-2, 215-pound defensive end Tyrell Wilson “will be the best football player in the country by the time he’s a senior.” Wilson made the Daily Press’ all-area first team this year as a sophomore.

Wilson is likely to vie for attention with another Peninsula-area sophomore, 6-foot, 230-pound Dominik Davenport, a defensive lineman for archrival Phoebus High School. That rivalry became even more contentious this year when Hampton beat host Phoebus 35-10 during the regular season, only to lose a first-round Group AAA Division 5 playoff game and stand by as Phoebus won its third state title.

In the likely event that Tech recruits Wilson, it will be interesting to note that one of Smith’s feuds with the Hokies began when Tech was recruiting Wilson’s father. James Wilson was a Tech target before he signed with Tennessee, where he lettered for four years and was a team captain in 1993.

The following is from a Roanoke Times article in 1990:

It is no coincidence that Virginia Tech is not involved with any of the football prospects at Hampton High School. Some ruffled feathers remained after Hampton star James Wilson signed with the Hokies in 1989, then enrolled at Tennessee.

"I haven't seen Virginia Tech; I haven't heard from them," Hampton coach Mike Smith said. "It's just my feeling that this year would not be a good time. It's not a real workable situation right now."

Smith was disturbed when Tech withdrew its scholarship offer to Wilson, who was eligible under NCAA guidelines. It was Tech's contention that certain academic stipulations were made to Wilson when he signed and he did not fulfill them during the spring semester.



A doctor’s search for roots led to harrowing escape
By JEFF NATIONS / Journal Staff Writer

RANSON — Dr. Jamshid Bakhtiar doesn’t display any trophies in his office.

There are no cleats or helmets, jerseys or footballs mounted on pedestals.

A 10-year resident of the Eastern Panhandle, Bakhtiar — a psychiatrist — splits time among his offices in Ranson, Martinsburg and Inwood.

The game of football was once an important part of Bakhtiar’s life, and he was good at it. As a rugged 6-foot tall, 205-pound fullback at the University of Virginia, Bakhtiar long ago etched his name into the Cavaliers’ record book and it remains there still.

From 1955 to 1957, “Jim” Bakhtiar — given such colorful nicknames as “The Iron Iranian” and “The Iranian Prince,” among others — ran roughshod over the competition in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Despite starting on both offense and defense as a fullback and linebacker, Bakhtiar completed his collegiate career as the ACC’s all-time leader in rushing yardage (2,434 yards), attempts (555) and most 100-yard games — records that stood for more than 10 years. Bakhtiar still ranks as Virginia’s sixth all-time leading rusher despite just playing three years of varsity football during one of Virginia’s leanest stretches of success.

“We just didn’t have the horsepower like Duke did,” Bakhtiar said. “We beat Carolina — Jim Tatum was coaching at that time, and we really were underdogs. We beat Virginia Tech down in the Richmond Tobacco Bowl (in 1957). I still hold the record actually, with Wali Lundy. He and I are the only Virginia backs to score four touchdowns against Virginia Tech.

“We just didn’t have enough people. I played 60 minutes every game — I mean, I never came out. We just didn’t have the number of athletes, and the University of Virginia was even harder to get into at that time in terms of their academics.”

Despite the Cavs’ struggles, the press took notice of Jim Bakhtiar. After gaining an ACC-high 822 yards in 1957, in his senior season, Bakhtiar was named a first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America. As part of that team, Bakhtiar was featured in Look Magazine and appeared on the “Perry Como Show.” He shared third-team Associated Press all-America honors with future NFL great Jim Taylor; the AP didn’t select a fullback for the first or second team that year.

A year with the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders followed, and Bakhtiar was just as successful. He gained 991 rushing yards for Calgary and was named the team’s most outstanding player, after that he never strapped on a football helmet again.

“I went up there and did pretty well, actually,” Bakhtiar said. “But I just decided that I wanted to go to medical school, and I didn’t want to take the risk of getting hurt.”

Nearly 50 years have passed since then, but Bakhtiar added another football accolade to his resume this month when he was named as The Football Writers 2006 All-America Alumni Award recipient.

Bakhtiar, who received the award on Dec. 9 during a ceremony in Orlando, Fla., was featured on ESPN and rubbed elbows with the likes of college coaching legend Lou Holtz and television personality Regis Philbin (who served as moderator during the banquet).

“The award I got, one of the nicest things about it was it really wasn’t for my football,” Bakhtiar said. “It was what I did after football. And so therefore if athletes can realize that there’s a whole life out there that’s after football, and if you get locked in and think it’s only football, then I think you’re shortchanging yourself.”

Bakhtiar calls the award “an honor, and a surprise.” But for a time in his life, even admitting he was an American — let alone an All-American — could very well have cost Bakhtiar his life.

Back in Iran

The crack of splintering wood shattered Bakhtiar’s sleep one October night in 1981. Since 1976, the one-time football star-turned-psychiatrist had been practicing medicine in his native Iran. Bakhtiar served as chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Isfahan, guiding young psychiatrists through their residencies and seeing patients of both Iranian and American descent.

After 30 years living in America, Bakhtiar had arrived during the tumultuous regime of the Shah of Iran, a ruler widely unpopular in his own country for his pro-American and British sympathies. That conflict came to a head three years later, when the Shah fled the country and the Ayatollah Khomeini-led social revolution swept into power.

At first hopeful that the new regime would be good for his country, Bakhtiar stayed on in Iran. The anti-American sentiments led Bakhtiar to move his wife and three children to the Iranian capital of Tehran, where he commuted daily between work in Isfahan and home.

“We moved to Tehran to kind of get lost, to see if this thing blows over, so to speak,” Bakhtiar said. “And the war with Iraq started (in 1980), and my (14-year-old) son was vulnerable to be drafted. Kids 15, 16 years old were joining the various organizations that were part of the Revolutionary Guard. And I said, ‘Uh oh, I’m not going to have my son die in that war.’

“It was a terrible war — mines all over the place, people getting blown up. And at that time I was a consultant at the hospital for the Iranian soldiers — it was just terrible. I tried to help in my own way as a physician.”

But fear for his American-born son, as well as the realization that Khomeini’s regime was gradually taking a more hard-line, extreme stance against the west, led Bakhtiar to begin plotting his escape.

“My relatives kept telling me to leave because they said you don’t really understand the Iranian culture the way we do,” Bakhtiar said. “They were probably right.”

When a neighbor mentioned he could get his family out of the country through Turkey, Bakhtiar decided it was time to go. First, though, the men scouted the route through Pakistan. Disguised as Baluchi tribesmen, Bakhtiar and his friend drove nearly to the Pakistani border before turning back after deciding the route was too dangerous.

Before he could make his next move, Bakhtiar’s slumber was shattered that night in 1981. His plan had been discovered.

“The Revolutionary Guards broke the door down and came into the bedroom, and took me off to the Central Committee — it was the old Parliament (building) and the old monarchy had divided it into small cells.”

Getting an American education

The pull of his native land had always been strong in Jim Bakhtiar’s heart. Born in southwest Iran at the foot of the Bakhtiar mountains, Bakhtiar was born a child of two different worlds. His father, the first American-trained physician in Iran, had married an American-born nurse working in Iran. In 1939, when Bakhtiar was 5, his mother took three of his siblings back to the United States to visit her parents. Bakhtiar would not see them again for seven years, as the outbreak of World War II divided the family across two continents.

Bakhtiar’s mother returned to Iran in 1946. Bakhtiar’s father insisted that all his children should receive an American education. So with seven children in tow, Bakhtiar’s mother boarded a boat bound for the United States.

“The plan was that Dad wanted all of us to get an American education, so then Mom brought all seven of us back,” Bakhtiar said. “But Dad never came. I think he was just too old to go through the examination and all that stuff, so he stayed.”

Bakhtiar’s parents divorced, and he had to work hard to adapt to his new environment. He couldn’t speak a word of English when he arrived in Washington, D.C., at age 12. As soon as he could, Bakhtiar began working and supported himself by pumping gas, working construction and delivering newspapers.

At the same time, sports helped Bakhtiar fit in. At D.C.’s Western High School, he earned all-metropolitan and third-string high school all-America honors in his senior year as captain of the football team. A successful season in prep school was enough to gain notice from Virginia’s coaching staff, and Bakhtiar earned a scholarship.

“Mom saw me play one time,” Bakhtiar said. “I used to broadcast ‘Voice of America’ through the state department, and they did one of my films. They showed it at one of the movie theaters in Iran and my father went to that and saw me. I think we played Army or something, and I had a pretty good game. So that’s the only time he saw me, but I sent him all my pictures, and he was proud, obviously, as a father.”

Even as he succeeded on the football field, Bakhtiar — who spent one summer every four years with his father in Iran after his move to America — dreamed of following in his father’s footsteps as a physician practicing in Iran.

“All my life, my dream was to go back to Iran. If you were to read articles about me when I was in high school or if you were to read my high school yearbook, it would say on there that after he finishes his schoolwork and becomes a doctor he plans to return to Iran. And that was always in there.

“ I think you feel really needed in a third-world country when you compare to what we have here in America, in terms of organization and access to technology and so forth. When you go back there, it’s very different, and you feel like you can make a contribution.”

Paying for school

Bakhtiar, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen at age 19, used his salary from his year of pro football to pay his way through medical school at Virginia, and after graduation he took an internship in Los Angeles to study obstetrics.

“One of my motivations was wanting to get away from being known,” Bakhtiar said. “I had a feeling I did not want to be known as Jim Bakhtiar, the football player. I wanted to go to a place where nobody knew me, so to speak, and I’d have to prove myself according to the standards they had.”

Drafted to serve during the Vietnam War, Bakhtiar — who earlier had served three years in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves during the Korean War —spent two years as a naval medical officer stationed in Washington. During that time, he permanently switched his focus to psychiatry. More career stops followed, including a formative four-year stint at the C.G. Jung Institute in San Francisco. With lingering unresolved issues concerning the abrupt separation of his family — Bakhtiar’s father died in 1971, still having never come to America — Bakhtiar said the philosophies of Carl Jung “really saved my life.”

“We didn’t know we were going to be separated until the boat is leaving the shoreline and Dad is standing there in a Jeep waving goodbye,” Bakhtiar said. “It was just a very powerful memory.”

Bakhtiar went through a divorce of his own in 1969, and by 1976, after having spent time in Iran as a visiting professor, Bakhtiar was ready to return to his native land.

Back to America

As day after day passed with endless interrogations, Jim Bakhtiar kept conveying the same idea to his questioners in Iran — “We just want to leave.”

“I was never tortured, but I was interrogated for hours,” Bakhtiar said. “They kept thinking because I’m half-American, I had something to do with the CIA. I never did.”

Bakhtiar spent 28 days in a cramped cell before his colleagues at the University of Isfahan successfully lobbied for his release. Before he could go, Bakhtiar was forced to surrender his entire bank account — about $40,000 — as well as his wife’s jewelry and sign a five-year contract pledging to stay in Iran. He was told that his possessions would be returned after five years, but Bakhtiar’s mind was already on his next attempt to escape.

In June 1982, he got his chance. A mother whose daughter he was treating for schizophrenia mentioned that her relatives could get Bakhtiar and his family out of the country. He spoke to no one of his plan to leave, telling his children the day they were to depart that they were going on vacation. After four hours in the car, Bakhtiar’s family transferred to a Jeep and traveled another four or five hours.

Then for the next two nights, the Bakhtiars traveled on horseback with their guides. By day, they hid out in caves. Finally they reached a road near the border of Turkey, and from there caught a bus out of the country. Days later, after his sister wired money, Bakhtiar and his family were on an airplane headed back to the United States.

Thinking back on his time in Iran, Bakhtiar believes studying Jung helped him and his family survive.

“Carl Jung made two statements that really helped me,” Bakhtiar said. “One was it’s not either/or. It’s either and or. So good and bad exists on both sides. You don’t polarize and say the axis of evil is over here, and we don’t have any evil here ourselves.

“When you think you have the answer and you’re always right, that’s the most dangerous type of person.”

Still a fan

Jim Bakhtiar is still a fan of Virginia football, a season-ticket holder.

“I got really upset and walked out at halftime when they were playing Virginia Tech last year,” Bakhtiar admits. “I couldn’t stand it. Virginia just had a terrible day. But I still enjoy the games, and I keep in touch with Al Groh, the coach.”

And Bakhtiar does make one small concession to his athletic background. Taped on the wall behind his Ranson office desk is John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, a blueprint of sorts that the legendary basketball coach at UCLA used for decades. Bakhtiar has been working on-and-off with former Virginia football coach George Welsh to modify that pyramid, breaking it down into book form.

“We’re trying to figure out how coaches can instill certain positive characteristics in athletes so they can be contributors to the social system — family, society, so forth — and football becomes a means by which you enhance those characteristics.”

If Bakhtiar had chosen to stay in athletics, he thinks it would have been as a coach. And in a way, he is.

“The second statement of Carl Jung that changed my life was ‘The purpose of life is the creation of consciousness,’ which is to say the purpose of life is to become awake — to the good and the bad, the awful, the terrible, the beautiful, the good,” Bakhtiar said. “And to become aware of that is what changes human beings to have choices in life.”





Charges of rape at Duke dropped
But 3 lacrosse players still face sex offense and kidnapping counts
By Jeff Barker
Sun Reporter
December 23, 2006

The Durham County, N.C., district attorney dropped rape charges yesterday against three Duke University lacrosse players after their accuser expressed doubts about her earlier statements. But the prosecutor kept other charges intact, leaving the defendants still facing the possibility of a trial.

The players, including Bethesda's David Evans, who graduated in May, face a first-degree sexual offense count carrying the same maximum penalty - nearly 25 years - as rape does. A kidnapping charge was also preserved and could add to their prison time if they are convicted.

Evans, who relatives say went to work for a communications firm after graduating, "is still a charged defendant in some very serious crimes that he is innocent of. So he has no joy in what happened," said his attorney, Joseph Cheshire.

Evans and teammates Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty were indicted last spring after a 27-year-old woman said she was pulled into a bathroom and raped by three men after being hired as a stripper at an off-campus lacrosse team party.

The case rocked the Duke campus and caused upheaval in racially mixed Durham. The accuser, a student at nearby North Carolina Central University, is black, and nearly all of the lacrosse team is white. Some North Carolina Central students said they feared that the justice system would coddle the players because of their privileged backgrounds.

More recently, attention has turned to District Attorney Michael B. Nifong. The prosecutor's handling of the case has been criticized by media commentators and members of Congress - and yesterday by Duke's president.

"The district attorney should now put this case in the hands of an independent party, who can restore confidence in the fairness of the process," Duke President Richard H. Brodhead said in a statement. "Further, Mr. Nifong has an obligation to explain to all of us his conduct in this matter."

All three players are free on bond. In October, Duke lacrosse coach John Danowski told The Sun that Finnerty and Seligmann, who would have been juniors this year, will likely be invited to rejoin the team if cleared of all charges.

Duke's Ed Douglas, a team co-captain from Baltimore's Gilman School who wears a wristband displaying the indicted players' numbers, has said he would welcome the players back.

The rape charges were dismissed in a document signed by Nifong and filed just before noon yesterday. "There is insufficient evidence to warrant prosecution," the document said.

It went on to say that the accuser met Thursday with an investigator from the district attorney's office and expressed second thoughts about her account. "While she initially believed that she had been vaginally penetrated by a male sex organ (penis), she cannot at this time testify with certainly that a penis was the body part that penetrated her vagina," the document said.

Unlike a rape allegation, a "first-degree sexual offense" charge doesn't require proof of vaginal intercourse.

It's not the first time that the accuser has contradicted herself. The woman first told authorities "that she was raped and sexually assaulted by approximately 20 white members of a Duke team," according to a report by civil rights attorney Julius Chambers and former Princeton University President William G. Bowen, which was requested by Duke and released in May.

Nifong was unavailable for comment yesterday. Defense attorneys urged him to drop the remaining charges.

"Do the honorable thing. End this case," said Wade Smith, Finnerty's attorney.

DNA testing in the case has found genetic material on the woman's body from unidentified men, but none of it matches samples taken from the Duke players - information that Cheshire, Evans' lawyer, said was initially withheld from the defense. "It is the ethical duty of a district attorney not to win a case, not to prosecute all cases but to see that justice is done," Cheshire said.

Cheshire said Nifong has no more evidence to support the sexual offense and kidnapping charges than he had for the rape charge.

Nifong's filing was a surprise - two defense attorneys were planning to attend Christmas parties yesterday, and a third was at a movie with his daughter. The attorneys quickly contacted the defendants and their families, who mostly reacted with relief and anger, relatives and defense lawyers said.

Evans' father, Washington attorney David C. Evans, declined to comment, referring questions to Cheshire.

Sally Fogarty of Chevy Chase, the mother of Duke lacrosse player Gibbs Fogarty, said, "I don't think anyone's considering this a Christmas present or anything, because a present is something that's given in good will."

Fogarty said her first reaction to yesterday's news was positive. "I was thinking, 'God, this is so great,' and my whole family was with me, and we were all like, 'Thank God.' But then you look at each other, and you're still like, 'How did this ever happen?' because it's just such a tragedy. So many lives have been so irreparably harmed."
The Events

March 13: Members of Duke University's men's lacrosse team attend a party where two women are hired perform exotic dancing. The next morning, one of the women tells police she was taken into a bathroom and sexually assaulted.

March 23: DNA samples are taken from 46 team members.

March 28: The university president suspends play for the team. Issues of race are raised - the alleged victim is black, and the team is predominantly white.

April 5: Lacrosse coach Mike Pressler resigns and the university cancels the season as an e-mail is made public in which a player said he wanted to skin and kill strippers.

April 10: Defense lawyers announce that DNA results show no link between any sexual assault and any lacrosse players.

April 18: Two Duke players, Reade William Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, are arrested on rape and related charges.

May 15: A third player, David F. Evans of Bethesda, is charged with rape.

June 5: Duke reinstates the men's lacrosse program for the 2007 season with stipulations.

June 8: Defense lawyers say in court papers that the second dancer who performed at the party, Kim Roberts, contradicted key elements of the alleged victim's story.

Dec. 13: Defense lawyers say in court papers that DNA testing suggests that the alleged victim might have had sex but not with any of the lacrosse players.

Dec. 22: Prosecutors drop rape charges against the three lacrosse players, who still face kidnapping and sexual offense charges.