One image outside Colts running back Fred Lane's home in southeast Charlotte told the story last week: A large pink wooden stork, which had been placed in the front yard to announce the June 29 arrival of Lane's daughter, Pilarr, had been wrapped in yellow police tape, cordoning off the house as a crime scene.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police say Lane, 24, who had been traded to Indianapolis by the Carolina Panthers in April, was shot and killed in the doorway of his home last Thursday. His wife, Deidra, 25, who had filed a domestic violence complaint against her husband in April, was questioned by investigators for several hours with Pilarr sitting on her lap. As of Monday she had not been charged in the death of her husband.
It was a violent end for a player whose life had become increasingly turbulent over the past few years. An undrafted free agent out of Lane College in Jackson, Tenn., Lane first grabbed the Panthers' attention during training camp in 1997 with his wild bursts of speed and his reckless running style. "He's the underdog, and everybody loves the underdog," said Dom Capers, Carolina's coach at the time. "If you look at our team and ask who is the biggest success story, it's Fred Lane."
He earned the starting job midway through his rookie year, but by the following season things began going sour for Lane. In October 1998 he was benched for a game after he misread the Panthers' itinerary and arrived at the airport late for the team's charter flight. Lane, dressed in a suit, chased the plane as it taxied down the tarmac, his teammates watching from inside and chanting, "Fred-dee! Fred-dee!" Said Lane: "I guess I wasn't fast enough."
That incident could serve as a metaphor not only for Lane's brief and troubled NFL career, one characterized by his dogged determination (he's Carolina's alltime leading rusher, with 2,001 yards) but also by naivete and immaturity. The day before his death, Lane was indicted by a Tennessee grand jury for misdemeanor possession of marijuana stemming from a Feb. 3 arrest.
"Fred was not a malicious kid," says Lane's close friend Tim Harkness, who was his offensive coordinator at Lane College. "He just didn't know how to deal with everything that was pushed on him all at once. He was still growing up, and each situation was new to him. Only he wasn't able to make his mistakes and learn from them in peace."