August 15, 2005
- by richie whitt
Hug your kids and hold on to your faith.
Because sometimes, defying infinite odds and surely
God's will, very bad things happen to very good children.
"Chandler lived so fast, played so hard, loved
so much," trembles the voice of father Rick Jackson between
trickles of tears. "It's like he knew he was a special angel … one
that would only be on this Earth a short time."
Chandler Hugh Jackson hit, caught, threw, dived, kicked,
leaped, rolled, birdied, danced, sang, prayed, joked, laughed, loved
and crow-barred 12 lifetimes into his 12 years. He was equally adept
at making the long throw from shortstop to first base, making you
laugh by putting on his mom's skirt and high heels, making the par
putt to win the hole, or making you feel like a part of the team
even though your right arm and leg were paralyzed from a childhood
"Boys at that age can be so brutally honest, so
cruel. But Chandler had a sense, a gift, knowing how to make people
feel loved," said Hilary Lueck, whose handicapped nephew, Jake,
continued playing baseball only at Chandler's urging. "He always
demanded to play catch with Jake. Always helped him get comfortable
around the swimming pool. He could sense when Jake felt left out,
and he brought him right into the group. He gave Jake self-confidence
at a time when it was absolutely priceless. And I don't even think
he knew why he did it. Chandler's instincts just told him that it
needed to be done."
With his big talent, huge heart and contagious smile,
was Chandler the next Alex Rodriguez? The next Brett Favre? The next
Adam Sandler? The next George W. Bush?
Then, just like that - before you could comprehend
his present or calculate his future - he was gone. In a tree-lined
Kentucky ditch on a July 6 blackened with morbid misery and mind-boggling
mystery, Chandler instead became the next All-American Tragedy.
"My faith is really, really being tested," Chandler's
mother, Charmane Jackson, admits while staring blankly at a sweating
glass of ice water and a box of her son's photos in the kitchen of
her Frisco, Texas home. "Why take away someone who was doing
so much good for so many people? People say he's in a better place,
but I hate that. He was having a great life, and he was making life
great for so many other people. How could it be better? All Chandler
wanted to do is love and be loved. Look around, there's not enough
people like him in this world. And for him to be taken away? Like
that? I just don't know anymore …"
It's been 33 days since Chandler's death. Mutters Rick
over a plate of food that will go untouched, "I'm still not
sure it's sunk in yet."
And it may never. Because an unfathomable accident,
a freak fatal wound, an invisible investigation and a pre-teen funeral
were never part of the grand plan.
Chandler's next stop was supposed to be Cooperstown,
not a coffin.
"You never know how things might have turned out,
but, boy, were there a bunch of us who couldn't wait to find out," said
Chandler's long-time baseball coach Rob Feeback. His 5-foot-3, 110-pound
frame, family history, doctors' projections and whopping size 11
shoes at age 12 suggest Chandler would have reached 6-foot-6. "He
was the fastest runner, the hardest thrower and one of the best hitters.
And he was such a great kid. It hurts to think about it, because
his potential really was unlimited. By that age you can start to
tell who has it and who doesn't. And it was obvious to everyone that
Chandler had all the makings of a big star."
The fact that Chandler raised eyebrows and lowered
his ERA while constantly playing against boys two years older shouldn't
surprise. Since the time Rick and Charmane took one look at the bulky,
vibrant sonogram and nicknamed him "Peanut", Chandler demanded
attention while doling out affection.
Born Sept. 14, 1992 in Plano and named after Happy
Chandler, Major League Baseball's second commissioner, Chandler came
out swinging. He immediately became a '90s "Baby Boomer",
hammering plastic baseballs over the fence into his neighbors' swimming
pool. Not long after, he blossomed into the kid who stole second
base on the field, and stole the spotlight off it.
He started playing organized baseball at three, smashed
the front windshield of his grandma's Nissan Stanza with a wild throw
at five (instead of going for his belt, Rick fetched his camera because "I
don't think I could've thrown the ball hard enough to break that
window!"), parred his first hole at six and fed the world out
of the palm of his hand during water breaks.
Boyishly handsome with a strong jaw, giddy white smile,
stylish brown hair and electric blue eyes that could blend in to
Times Square or light up a desert sky at midnight, Chandler tested
up two grades at Carrollton's Arbor Creek Middle School despite battling
ADHD. He attended Hebron Community Church though he was uncomfortable
in anything other than baseball cleats or his No. 4 Kentucky basketball
jersey. And, at an age when most boys are still firm believers that
girls are indeed infested with cooties, his best friend was schoolmate
tomboy Jessica Clothier.
"We'd go skateboarding at Eisenberg's (in Plano)
and he'd try to get me to do all sorts of tricks," said Jessica. "And
I usually wound up trying. The only time I saw him back down was
when we snuck out his room onto the roof. There was a 10-foot drop-off
and he was like "Uh, let's go back'."
While the two weren't to the point of stealing kisses,
Charmane sensed the natural chemistry.
"They weren't boyfriend and girlfriend," she
said, "but you got the feeling it would have gotten to that
Chandler was a unique blend of a child blessed with
loving parents, plentiful resources and the innate humility to boomerang
those gifts into generosity. (After a two-year separation Rick and
Charmane divorced in May. But they remain friendly and when Rick
moved out of their upper-class house he leased an apartment within
walking distance to stay close to his son, both literally and figuratively.)
When Chandler won a wad of prize tickets at Dave & Buster's,
he bought nothing for himself but instead an ash tray for his mom
and matching baseball pillows for 11-year-old twins Connor and Caleb
Massie. When he earned yet another game ball for three extra-base
hits and a diving catch in center field, he instead gave the award
to teammate Scotty Klimm, who struggled with the sport but on that
night managed a rare base hit. While on a Spring Break snowboarding
trip to Angel Fire, New Mexico, Chandler ransacked the resort gift
shop. Not for himself, but for friend Megan Lucas.
Reasoned Chandler to his dad as he unloaded an armful
of souvenir trinkets on the counter, "I got this trip. But Megan
didn't get to go anywhere for Spring Break."
And then there was the time when Chandler gave his
dad something special - a promotion.
It was one of Lexington, Kentucky's most posh, exclusive
events of the year, the wedding of Robinson Swearengen Brown IV -
of the Jack Daniel's-owning Brown-Foreman Company - and Jennifer
Jackson, Chandler's only female first cousin. Grand ballroom. Black
ties. Mannered tables heavy on silverware and free of elbows. Guests
arriving in stretch limos - most that weren't rented.
After Robinson Swearengen "Pappy" Brown II,
the family's 87-year-old patriarch and two-time honorary chairman
of the Kentucky Derby, gave his toast, something happened. Something
right out of a Will Ferrell flick. Something that forever endeared
down-to-earth Chandler to a pie-in-the-sky family.
"I have a toast too!" stood Chandler as the
needle scratched violently off the Sinatra vinyl.
Chandler, it seemed, had a story. And, boy, did he
also have charisma.
When Robinson was first introduced to the Jacksons,
it was in the parking lot of a tailgating party before a UK football
game. Understandably nervous to fit in, Robinson meticulously prepared
his hamburger. Bun. Cheese. Ketchup. Pickles. Onions. Lettuce. Bite.
"But he forgot the meat!!!" howled Chandler,
loosening the stuffy guests into side-splitting laughter. "At
first I thought he was a vegetarian. But I knew right then that Robinson
would be a fun guy to have around. Welcome to our family!"
Soon after, Rick realized his promotion.
"So, you're Chandler's dad?!"
When Chandler wasn't cracking up friends and family
with marginal decisions to put on his wet suit to clean the swimming
pool in February, put on his mom's blouse, skirt and heels to cheer
her up while she was sick in bed, or hide his clean basket of folded
clothes in the attic for two months because he so hated to put them
away, he was knocking down conventional emotional barriers with his
Just behind hits, Chandler loved hugs. He loved wrapping
his arms around anyone from 14-year-old friends at school, to his
Aunt Martha and her two black Schnauzers Hershey and Babes, to his
sister veggin' out in front of the TV.
"Everybody talks about his athletic gifts, but
Chandler was blessed with an abundance of spiritual gifts, too," says
his 23-year-old sister, Lindsey Brunsman. "He wouldn't enter
or leave a room without hugging someone. I'd be watching TV and he'd
just come up behind me, hug me, tell me "You're the best sis
in the world", and then he'd start scratching my back. With
just little things like that, he'd light up everyone he was around."
Outside adults, Lindsey was Chandler's prime role model.
He both missed and admired her while she went on a six-month missionary
trip to Australia last year. He sat in on her guitar playing and
singing, became a rabid fan of her Oklahoma University and flashed
their special "I Love You" hand signal when words seemed
cumbersome. While at OU, Lindsey made Chandler a mold of the sign
in ceramics class, never imagining the gift would wind up in her
"He helped make everyone around him a better person," said
Lindsey. "There are not a lot of people you can say that about."
When he wasn't inhaling Reese's chocolates, the movie
Angels in the Outfield or the cartoon Kim Possible, Chandler spent
Fridays eating Brooklyn's Pizza and watching war movies with dad
and most every chance he got singing "You Are My Sunshine" with
"He won lots of awards and accomplished so much," said
Charmane. "But I think my happiest times with him were just
playing with his hair and singing to each other."
You Are My Sunshine,
My only sunshine.
You make me happy,
When skies are grey.
You'll never know, dear,
How much I love you.
Please don't take my sunshine away.
Said long-time family friend Tammy Koch, "He was
just so sweet, he'd love on you no matter what. He was always coming
up behind you with a hug and a "Guess who?!' He was just the
happiest kid in the world. And it was a gift, because he always wound
up making you happy as well."
Like all 12-year-old boys, Chandler wasn't perfect.
He could be hard-headed, rambunctious, disruptive and, thanks to
the ADHD, disinterested in school work. At home, keeping him focused
was Lindsey's chore. At Arbor Creek that job fell to 14-year-old
friend Kelsey Van Horn.
"He definitely had trouble concentrating and staying
on task," said Van Horn, who had been counting on watching Chandler
start the 7th grade last week. "If I sat with him and went through
his folder and we worked together, he was fine. But if it was up
to him to do his work on his own, he'd find excuses to go outside
or start singing or something."
Though Kelsey was both tutor and playmate, Chandler
also showered her with love. Every day, in fact. At precisely 9:36
"He'd come from the band hall and be waiting for
me between classes in the exact same place by the water fountains," she
said. "For no real reason, just to say "Hi" and to
give me a big hug. I guess I was drawn to him like a little brother."
Chandler slapped especially big smiles on the faces
of his baseball coaches. And, sooner than later, you get the feeling
he was going to have college and even professional scouts drooling
at his raw talent and passion for the game.
Whether playing for Feeback's Giants, the Plano Select
All-Stars or, in the end, the Texas Lightning, Chandler often dominated
games with his mouth-watering combination of David Eckstein's hustle
and David Ortiz' power.
"He was the most competitive player I ever coached," said
Feeback, who played at Hardin-Simmons and began coaching Chandler
in T-ball. "And pretty close to the most talented. There was
nothing he couldn't do on a baseball field."
His room was adorned with framed pictures of old-school
heroes like Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. His on-base percentage
was .800. His uniform was never without a grass stain on the knee
or dirt on the butt. He was buried wearing a bracelet that read "Eat.
Sleep. Play Ball."
Last May in Mesquite, Chandler slammed a home run that
three witnesses marched off as landing 155 feet beyond the field's
230-foot fence. (A 385-foot shot would be a homer in almost every
part of the Rangers' Ameriquest Field.) On that game ball, an amused
Chandler scribbled, "Dang, I hit this ball far!"
Playing as a 10-year-old in the 11-12-year-old league
championship game, Chandler displayed both his pop and pedals. With
his Giants trailing by a run in the last inning, Chandler laced a
line drive into the right-field corner. Halfway around second base,
he looked up to realize he was about to pass a teammate who had been
on first base. Despite momentarily stopping, Chandler - with Rick
coaching third base - was thrown out in a close play at home plate
in a game his team would eventually lose in extra innings.
"He was going to score on an inside-the-park homer
and we win the championship," recalls Feeback. "Chandler
could really motor. I don't think anybody could have kept up with
him that day."
In his last tournament, Chandler went 8 for 14 with
the Denton event's only over-the-fence homer and seven other extra-base
hits. In his final at-bat, on June 26, he lined a nasty curve ball
off the left-field fence for a double, knocking in the winning run
that allowed the Lightning to beat the No. 2-ranked Super Series
team in the nation and qualify the Lightning for the National Tournament.
Chandler's dramatic heroics set up a perfect summer
vacation. A trip to the family's farm in Kentucky for the annual
July 4th reunion, followed the next week by the National Tournament
But on July 1 as Charmane ran to Rick's SUV with a
piled-high BLT for Chandler to munch on during the 9-hour drive to
Cunningham, she was bathed in an eerie sensation that made her mind
race and her skin crawl.
"Out of nowhere I had the worst feeling," she
said. "That I might not see Chandler ever again. I always worried
about the long drive on holiday weekends, but I was really scared.
I gave him a big hug and prayed for the best."
It was the last time she would see her son alive.
Though he sparkled in the bright lights of the big
city just north of Dallas, Chandler was just a good ol' young country
boy. Fell asleep listening to crickets chirping, courtesy of his
nature sound machine. And would often make a tiny circle with his
hand and put it up to his eye while Rick was speeding along bustling
North Dallas Tollway.
"If you make the circle small enough," Chandler
answered to his dad's flabbergasted inquiry, "you can block
out the city and only see the country."
At the heart of Chandler's love affair with The Rural
World reality show was the Jackson family's 300-acre farm in the
bluegrass state. Tucked in the far western corner about 35 miles
from Paducah, the corn and soybean farm was surrounded by Missouri,
Tennessee, Illinois and sprawling Kentucky Lake.
Chandler spent all 12 of his July 4ths and most every
Christmas at the farm, shooting fireworks, playing baseball, riding
tractors, boating, golfing and piggin' out on hot barbecue and cold
homemade ice cream. Like a rooster at sunrise, at least once a day
during his stays Chandler would blurt out his trademark pronouncement:
"This is the best day of my life!"
In what became a rite of summer, Rick stopped at Boom
Land, a giant fireworks store in Missouri, and let Chandler go crazy.
He was, after all, the choreographer of the farm's traditional show
atop a patriotic, grassy stage known simply as "The Hill." It
was atop this hill - where from the old wooden swing you can peer
out over the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers -- that in 2003 Robinson
had proposed to Jennifer, and just three years ago Chandler and Rick
buried their own time capsule complete with coins and baseball cards.
This July, the farm felt better than ever.
"Chandler was always a ray of sunshine on the
outside, but he internalized things, too. And with the death of Gramps
(Rick's dad) in January, and then the divorce, he'd had a tough year," said
Lindsey. "But once he got to the farm, and up on the hill … that
was his little slice of heaven."
And Chandler's love was in full bloom. On his way outside
the day before the accident, Chandler saw his 83-year-old grandmother
hunched over the stove frying some breakfast bacon. Noticing her
obvious back pain, Chandler eschewed his morning baseball plans and
instead pulled up two chairs alongside the stove - one for her and
one for him.
"They sat and talked for an hour," said Rick. "He
was so in tune with the people he loved."
This year's fireworks show was on July 3, with the
traditional family golf tournament - followed by the ice cream, of
course - on the 4th. On the morning of Wednesday, July 6, Chandler
played baseball with cousins Stephen, 16, and Matthew Davis, 14,
and Evan McLemee, 14.
"He was working on the double-play pivot," Rick
recalls between the temporary soothing of a Bud Light. "Until
he finally got it perfect."
At lunch, Rick laid out afternoon options to the boys.
Since some family members were preparing to leave and it would be
the last day with access to a boat, he anticipated taking the group
skiing on the lake.
"Chandler never passed up a chance to be on the
lake," Rick said. "But we'd played golf on the 4th and,
for whatever reason, he really wanted to play again. So we let him
pick the teams and off we went."
This particular family feud featured three, three-member
teams playing a scramble at the local course, Dogwood Hills. It's
the perfect setting for gene-friendly golf with its semi-private
9-hole course tucked along Highway 62 amid rolling hills and $15
weekday green fees. Chandler's hand-picked teammates included Matthew
and his mother, Angela Davis.
"Chandler was his happy, goofy self," said
Angela, a 35-year-old Kindergarten teacher in Cunningham. "We
hadn't even teed off yet and he was already asking if we could play
Oblivious to the 90-degree, cloudless heat in dark
denim shorts, a red "Skater Dude" T-shirt and black low-top
sneakers, Chandler took the competition seriously. In between shots,
however, he entertained his teammates by singing and dancing to the
Venga Boys' "We Like To Party" theme song from Six Flags
Amusement Parks' summer TV ads. You know the one, with the catchy "da-da-da-da-da-DA-da" hook
and the dancing tuxedo-clad bald guy.
Said Angela, "It's hard to tell him he's getting
on your nerves when you keep laughing at him."
For little more than braggin' rights around the supper
table, the groups teed off around 5 p.m. Angela took off in her cart
while Matthew and Chandler drove the other. Rick's threesome would
follow a hole behind.
On their 13th hole of the day -- No. 4, the course's
toughest - Matthew sank a 9-foot putt to save par. In a playful taunting
of Rick's group back on the tee box, Chandler and Matthew began dancing
and high-fiving off the green and all the way to their cart.
"I thought they made a long putt for a birdie
or something," said Rick. "He was doing some kind of jig.
It was the last time Rick would see his son alive and
No. 5 at Dogwood Hills is a tight Par 3. There are
thick trees to the left and, along the right side, a 6- to 7-foot
deep gulley where run-off water drains and a line of Sycamore, Sweet
Gum and Oak trees grow to form a natural separation from the No.
2 fairway, which runs in the opposite direction. From the kids' tees,
the downhill hole measures 130 yards.
Using his 9-iron - a U.S. Kids Golf Performance Light
Gold club -- Chandler sliced his shot wildly to the right, through
the trees and over onto the 2nd fairway. Angela yanked her shot left
into the trees while Matthew managed to put his ball on the green.
Since the scramble format dictated using Matthew's tidy shot, Angela
and Chandler would pick their balls up and meet Matthew on the green.
With the No. 5 path winding around to the left side of the green,
Angela and Matthew drove their carts while Chandler, mildly disgusted
with his uncharacteristically errant shot, held on to his 9-iron
and took off walking to the right through the trees toward his ball.
What happened next is as unthinkable as it is uncertain.
Only thing for sure: Two hours later Chandler Jackson would be dead.
"In your wildest imagination you wouldn't have
an inkling of what happened," said Dogwood Hills Chairman Tommy
Reddick. "It defies explanation."
With Chandler out of sight, hidden by the slopes of
the gulley, Matthew hears a distinct "snap" while helping
Angela look for her ball to the left of the green. According to Matthew,
two seconds later he hears a distinct cry for "Help!" coming
from the gulley. Immediately following was a second cry, this one
muffled, garbled and weak.
"I ran down toward him," said Matthew, "but
when I got about 10 feet away I just saw blood shooting in the air.
I knew it was bad."
Alertly, Matthew yells for his mom to call for help
while he hops in the cart to head back to Rick a hole behind.
Said Matthew, "I floored it, but it seemed like
I was going in slow motion." Told that "Chandler is hurt
really bad and bleeding", Rick leaps out of his slow-moving
cart and runs up the fairway toward the gulley.
While calling 911 at 7:28 p.m., Angela enlists the
help of Mike Hogancamp, the Carlisle County District Attorney who
had been playing No. 1 nearby and who, ironically, made the first
hole-in-one in club history at the same 5th hole. When they reach
Chandler less than 15 seconds after the initial "Help!" they
are almost paralyzed with fear.
The 12-year-old kid who less than five minutes earlier
had been comically mimicking an old, bald dancing man is now laying
on his back at the bottom of the ditch. With a puncture through his
neck and down toward his heart, thin streams of blood shoot wildly
into the air with each weakening beat. Chandler is laying in the
shaded grass and weeds, foot-to-head parallel to the 5th hole. His
eyes are open and arms are at his side. He is in shock, unresponsive,
mostly unconscious, and already his skin color is turning a sickening
"Having heard Matthew and seen his face, I knew
it was serious," said Angela. "But nothing could have prepared
us for that. It was haunting."
Five weeks later, Rick remains reluctant to re-live
the details of the nightmare: "I just remember the blood."
Back in Frisco, Lindsey calls her friends to start
a prayer chain. Charmane, receiving the call from Rick just seconds
after ordering dinner with her boyfriend, Dean Flores, at the Plano
Tavern restaurant, has become hysterical and physically unstable.
"Don't let my baby die!" she repeatedly yells
into the phone.
Says Lindsey, "I just remember sitting in the
grass in my front yard and looking up at the sky. It was the most
helpless feeling in the world."
While fast gathering family and friends use golf towels
to apply pressure to Chandler's wound, volunteers from the Carlisle
County Sheriff's Department and first responders from the Cunningham
Fire Department arrive on the scene, followed by an ambulance and,
10 minutes after the 911 call, a Air-E-Vac helicopter that lands
on the 30-yard wide 2nd fairway.
Urged to "Hang on baby!" and to "Breathe!" Chandler's
condition momentarily stabilizes. He exhibits brief signs of coherence
and voluntarily grasps for a couple of shallow breaths. When the
helicopter lifts off, medical personnel have a guarded sense of relief.
"He had decent vital signs," said Cunningham
Fire Department Emergency Medical Technician Bobby Toon. "I
thought he was going to be okay."
But once during the 5-minute flight and one last time
in the emergency room at Paducah's Lourdes Hospital, Chandler dies
and is revived. On the operating table surgeon Joseph Mayo orders
Chandler's chest to be cracked open with a rib spreader. Dr. Mayo
momentarily restores a faint pulse and blood pressure through blood
transfusions and by manually massaging his heart.
But the efforts are futile; Chandler's wound is fatal.
Despite five surgeons working on him for 90 minutes
Chandler is pronounced dead at 9:30 p.m., the result of massive hemorrhaging
caused by a direct impalement puncture that entered just below his
Adam's apple, angled sharply downward after glancing off a bony protrusion
of his breast plate, and completely sheared off his carotid artery
and partially sliced his aorta.
The killer: a 7-inch long piece of snapped, sharp,
shaft still attached to the head of the 9-iron.
"The doctors told us that if he'd suffered that
injury right there in the hospital, he still would've died," said
Angela. "It was that bad. But it gave a small level of peace,
I guess. Knowing that Chandler basically died instantly. That he
didn't suffer. That there was nothing we could have done."
Told of her son's death by Rick's deafening silence
on the other end of the cell phone, Charmane falls to the ground
on her backyard patio with a skin-shriveling shriek.
"As long as I live I'll never forget it," Lindsey
says of her mom's scream. "I hope no one has to hear anything
like that, ever."
Because there were no witnesses, no logical explanation
and no high-tech CSI in tiny-town Kentucky, knowing precisely how
Chandler died is impossible. Simply put, a one-in-a-million kid was
killed by a one-in-a-million accident.
Reads Dr. Mayo's report: "Specifics are unclear."
According to the most recent report by Emergency Medical
Journal, there were only 19 golf-related deaths of children under
13 in 2003. On the list: lightning strikes, cart roll-overs, drownings,
head trauma caused by swinging clubs or errant balls and even bee
stings. But accidental falls onto broken clubs? The odds are infinitesimal.
"For a kid that wonderful to be stolen from us," said
Rick, "it had to be something bizarre."
You want bizarre? Despite his head-first slides, scuba
dives and snowboarding highs, Chandler never broke a bone or even
needed a single stitch. His first trip to the emergency room turned
out to be his last.
There's only one thing worse than wondering why your
child died. Not knowing for sure how he died.
"Only two people know exactly what happened," said
Toon. "God and Chandler."
The best guess about Chandler's accident?
A courteous kid not wanting to keep Matthew and Angela
waiting on the green, Chandler was in a hurry to get his ball and
re-join the group. More than likely, after picking up his ball, he
began jogging - perhaps running - down the decline toward the bottom
of the gulley in order to build up enough speed to make it up the
incline on the other side and up to the green. According to Toon,
the slopes into the gulley are about 30 degrees. Gentle enough, in
other words, for disabled players to drive their golf carts through
and, certainly, for superior athletes like Chandler to navigate on
"It's a natural area, but it's certainly not a
jungle," said Reddick. "We maintain it with a weed-eater.
There's nothing there you can't run a mower over."
Said Rick, "He was fearless. Running through that
area wouldn't cross his mind twice."
According to Angela, Chandler earlier in the day had
been playfully brandishing his club like a sword, holding the head
in his hand and swinging the long shaft and grip toward Matthew's
general direction. Just minutes earlier on the No. 4 tee box, he
accidentally swung his "sword" through some landscaping.
"He knocked the top right off a peach Gladiola," said
Angela. "Then he put it in his mouth and presented it to me.
Chandler's way of saying "I'm sorry." It's something I'll
Perhaps Chandler, who was right-handed, was holding
his 9-iron the same way - like a cane -- as he descended the slope.
With considerable speed going down the decline, he somehow lost his
balance. He could've became entangled with the club, tripped over
his own feet or stumbled over an otherwise hidden tree root or hole
in the ground and began falling forward down the slope. In an effort
to break his fall, he might have put the grip end of the club into
the ground. The force of his body weight and the momentum from his
inertia could have snapped the club off near the head. As Chandler
plunged head first, he might have again tried to break his fall with
his right hand - still clutching the club head - and forearm on the
ground, which instead turned the splintered shaft at the perfectly
deadly angle to meet his falling, flailing torso. The initial "Help!" came
when Chandler initially tried to get to his feet but made it only
to one knee, explaining his blood-splattered shorts and his right
shoe's bloody sole. The second, softer cry came after he instinctively
pulled the club out of his neck and chest, then fell back to the
ground on his back.
"It goes down in the record books as one of the
all-time freak accidents," said Carlisle County Sheriff Steve
McChristian. "The poor kid had a better chance of being struck
by lightning on a sunny day."
McCracken County coroner Dan Sims has worked with fatalities
for almost 30 years. Never, he said, has he seen an accident as unique
and devastating as Chandler's.
"And I'll probably never see one like it again," said
Sims. "You couldn't re-create those elements, that terrain,
those angles, those circumstances again if you had to. Without any
eyewitnesses we'll never be able to pin-point exactly how it happened.
But the bottom line is that people just don't survive nicked arteries,
much less severed ones."
Adding to the bewilderment: Toon said he arrived at
the scene to find less than a teaspoon of blood on the ground around
Chandler. Approximately 90 percent of his fatal bleeding took place
"It's really thrown me for a loop," said
Toon, an EMT for 14 years. "I mean, there was nothing in that
area you could look at say "Yep, he tripped over that." There
were two or three trees nearby, but that part of the hole is basically
open. For a boy to die in those circumstances, it just doesn't make
As with all speculation, of course, other remote possibilities
and unanswered questions fester.
Could Chandler have broken the club when he hit his
ball from the 2nd fairway instead of picking it up, and then began
proceeded down the gulley with the two pieces of broken club in his
hands? The answer would be in the location of his ball, which was
never recovered. Could it have been a defective club that snapped
during a swing or even a gentle lean?
Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? No. Mysterious? Forever.
"It's like if somebody walks in front of a train,
what's to investigate?" explained McChristian, in his ninth
year as sheriff. "It was a terrible accident. The doctors said
the kid would've died in five minutes even if it had happened at
the hospital's front door. People are still pretty shook up about
it, but I didn't see a compelling reason to conduct an intense investigation
into what everyone believes was a freak accident."
Instead of a fatal accident, Chandler's death was treated
like an accident that later turned fatal.
A 12-year-old dies and all the responsible authorities
with jurisdiction come up with is a one-paragraph report and zero
photographs? McChristian's office might not have been maliciously
flippant, but it was undeniably far from thorough.
"What's upsetting to me is that nobody took the
time to try to find out how my son died," said Charmane. "They
just chalked it up to an accident, walked away, and we're all left
to guess what happened."
The saddest irony? Chandler's parents always feared
they were over-protective.
Mom wouldn't let him play tackle football because it
was too rough. Per dad's orders, he was one of the few at the skate
park wearing a helmet and full pads. He had a 20-gauge shotgun, but
was only allowed to shoot skeet on the farm. Rick feared the dangers
of deer hunting, one of the few goals that didn't get checked off
Chandler's to-do list.
"He had two gears," said Charmane, "asleep
or 100 miles per hour. It was a strength and a weakness."
Predictably, Chandler's family grieves in various ways.
While the parents are contemplating grief counseling
sessions together, Charmane remains dedicated to uncovering the details
of her son's death in search of a sort of soul-soothing closure.
In a trying two years in which she's been hospitalized with a bacterial
infection picked up while scuba diving in Mexico and in which her
mom was diagnosed with cancer, the stay-at-home mom now faces the
grim reality of selling her house and, along with it, her precious
memories of Chandler.
Struggling to get back into his high-pressure sales
job, Rick is diving into the Chandler Hugh Jackson Youth Foundation,
with only momentary glimpses back to the accident or ahead to his
next visit to the farm at Christmas or a life without his pride and
joy. He remains so depressed, distraught and downtrodden that he
hasn't yet mustered the strength to return to his son's grave site
in Frisco. As of now, Chandler rests without a headstone.
Said Rick, "He never gave up in any situation,
and I don't think he did this time either. He must have just had
a more important place to go. In the end, I guess it was his big
heart that did him in. That's just something I'm having trouble dealing
with. Every single day."
Lindsey, who in Kentucky eerily found a mood ring that
only days prior she had tried to talk Chandler out of buying, clings
stronger than ever to her faith.
"Things happen according to God's will," she
says while sitting on the floor of her mom's home, clutching a journal
that includes countless entries featuring her brother. "I just
trust and pray that good things will come out of this bad accident.
I trust that more good things than we can imagine are going to come
from his foundation. Chandler's spirit and legacy will touch even
more lives than he did."
Chandler had been scheduled to attend the week-long
Christian camp, and Rick felt moved to send his son's cousins and
friends to represent him. Sky Ranch also plans to plant a memorial
tree honoring Chandler later this year.
"We didn't talk about Chandler until the last
night," said Matthew. "We had a nightly Bible study and
I just got up and talked about my cousin being in a horrible accident.
I was crying like a baby, but it felt good to get it off my chest.
Now when we think about Chandler it's all good things. Things he
did to always make us laugh."
A fund-raising golf tournament is planned at Dogwood
Hills in September 10-11, at which time a memorial marker in Chandler's
living, laughing memory will be placed on the course. In 2006 the
foundation plans a similar golf tournament in Dallas.
"We want Chandler's memory to inspire other kids," said
Rick. "We want to send teams to baseball tournaments or just
give a kid a chance to make a birdie putt. Something positive they
can take with them for strength when they face adversity in their
life. We want them to have experiences like he did, and come away
saying "It was the best day of my life!' It's the only way for
us to make any sense out of what happened."
Inside Chandler's house, his mom has transformed the
front office into a shrine with everything from his trombone to his
poems to a picture of his Peruvian Paso horse, Dante. Outside in
the yard sits a simple flower arrangement with his photo in the middle
of a cross. And all over, the cheers that turned to tears are just
beginning the patient, painful transformation back to cheers.
"I'd love to take credit for Chandler being who
he was," said Charmane. "He was he sunshine of my life.
But you couldn't raise a child that unique if you tried."
Said Rick, "He was my son, my best friend and
my hero. And I lost them all on that day."
As usual, it was Chandler Jackson's best day. Inexplicably,
it was also his last day.
After all, the brightest stars burn out the fastest.