IT WAS SEPTEMBER 5, 2003, one year ago. A beautiful Friday night, the wind murmuring in the trees. Many of the residents of the tiny East Texas town of Tatum (population: 1,175) were at the high school stadium to watch the Tatum Eagles play their biggest rival, Spring Hill High School, from nearby Longview. "It was exactly the kind of night that makes a small town special," the high school principal would later say. "High school football, a big rivalry, everyone cheering, the band playing the school song."
The game went into overtime, Tatum losing 1421. One of the cheerleaders, fifteen-year-old sophomore Rachel Reid, famous for doing back handsprings across the field, ran midway across the field to kiss her mother, Julie, good-bye. She and one of her closest friends, fourteen-year-old freshman Mackinsey Blalock, a long-legged blond athlete, were headed off to spend the night with junior Jaicey Robberson, another cheerleader and one of the most popular girls at the school. Jaicey, who was sixteen, would be driving.
"Please be careful," Julie told her daughter. "You know what you mean to me." It was the first time that Julie was allowing Rachel to ride in a car at night with another teenager driving.
"Oh, Big Momma," Rachel replied, using her favorite nickname for her mother. "You know you worry too much."
The three girls jumped into Jaicey's brown Chevrolet Blazer. They were ecstatic, especially Rachel. For the first time, she was about to go cruising. She was going to get to experience the freedom of a car, roaming alone in the dark, laughing and leaning against her friends as their favorite songs blared from the radio.
Jaicey headed north of town on Texas Highway 149 to pick up one more friend, Kasey Jo Moraw, a former Tatum High School mascot who had graduated in 2002 and who was still living with her mother and stepfather. When Kasey Jo saw the Blazer pull up to her family's small home right next to the highway, she said good-bye to her mother, Janet Russom, and walked toward the door. Then, inexplicably, she turned and came back across the living room to hug her mother and say, "I love you, Momma." Kasey Jo turned one more time for the front door, shouted out to Jaicey, "I've got shotgun," and then jumped into the Blazer.
THE BOY GUNNED THE ENGINE of his pickup, a green 1997 GMC Sonoma, a real beauty, the kind of truck that made other boys in town look twice and whistle. He had bought it just two months earlier for $6,000, using his savings from his job at Sonic to make the down payment, and then he had spent another $1,000 souping it up, adding a new chrome grille, chrome wheel covers, chrome mirrors, an aluminum antenna, clear taillights, and a new CD player with a subwoofer and an amp that filled up most of the backseat.
The boy's name was David Reid. He was eighteen years old, fence-post lean, with closely cropped black hair, tiny metal studs piercing his ears and bottom lip, and a skull and flames tattoo etched on his right arm. He and his buddies spent most of their evenings in the large garage behind David's parents' house, where they played foosball or dominoes and worked on their cars. They called themselves the Monster Garage Crew. One of the crew members had gone so far as to strip the damaged hood off his Buick Skylark, expose the engine, paint blue flames on the doors, and call his car the Monster. But even he admitted that it didn't look half as good as David's truck.
"A hot-rodder," one of the parents in town would later say about David. "Not exactly the kind of boy you want your girl to go out with." Which, of course, was why so many girls liked him. He was the town's teenage James Dean. When he cranked up Hank Williams Jr. on his truck's stereo, the music could be heard a block away.
That Friday night, David and his buddies had gone to the Tatum HighSpring Hill game, then they had lingered in the parking lot, staring at girls, waiting for the traffic to thin out. Finally, David led the group north on Highway 149 toward his parents' house. As he was driving away, one of his friends, Karl Cullen, a senior at Tatum High, came up beside him in his gold two-door Mitsubishi Eclipse. One look between them was all it took. The two engines were suddenly roaring, the transmissions kicking through the gears. By the time they got to the city limits sign, they were standing on the gas, their tachometers heading toward the red lines, the white highway lines in front of them turning into a blur.
It was not supposed to last long. The two boys knew that. It was just a brief drag race, a short game of chicken to see who would back off first. A man standing in his front yard just outside the city limits estimated their speed at 80 to 85 miles an hour as they blew past his house. A woman driving north on the highway, Ozella Tunstle, was startled when they zoomed past her, David's truck in front, Karl's Eclipse two car lengths behind. She estimated their speed at 90 miles per hour. As they raced away from her, Mrs. Tunstle peered forward and saw something else. She saw a brown Chevy Blazer pulling onto the highway.
AFTER HUGGING HER DAUGHTER, Kasey Jo, good-bye, Janet Russom left the front door of her home open to catch the breeze. Then she sat down on the couch with her husband to watch Jay Leno. The explosion came before Leno got through a single joke. The sound was like a bomb detonating, an ugly screeching sound of metal slamming full-speed into metal.
The pickup had gone almost through the entire body of the Blazer, knocking both vehicles into a ditch on the other side of