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 Keny 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 nothing.
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 oil OUT 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.