By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Tracy Rollert thought it would be fun -- roaming around an abandoned old school with her boyfriend, Jim, maybe making love to him in an empty classroom. A neighbor who saw them climb the chain-link fence surrounding the property yelled at them to be careful. Instead, the fearless 36-year-old removed her sandals and scaled a narrow drainpipe that snaked up the east side of the building to a ledge jutting out from the second story.
Although street lamps shone dimly at the corner, it was dark on the ledge. Tracy didn't have a flashlight; she and Jim had broken theirs trying to pry the plywood off a boarded-up window on the first floor. So while Jim went off to get another one at the convenience store, Tracy crouched on the table-sized ledge, trying to stay out of view of passing cars and nearby lofts.
Her head was cloudy from alcohol and adrenaline, but she was having a good time -- feeling free and adventurous, proud of her climbing ability. When she saw Jim returning, a spot of light approaching the shadowy yard, she stood up to greet him. And then she lost her balance, stumbled, fell. It wasn't that far to the ground, but Tracy flipped on the way down and landed on a metal railing. Her neck was twisted, her insides smashed. When the police showed up moments later, she was pronounced dead at the scene.
The Evans school was back in the news.
A century ago, builders got a lot of bang -- and bricks, concrete blocks, wood planks and steel railings -- for their buck; $115,000 was all it took to turn architect David Dryden's blueprints into a finished school at the corner of 11th Avenue and Acoma Street. Labor was cheap, too, and abundant in the working-class neighborhood: Strong-backed masons, steelworkers and bricklayers crowded the site as construction got under way.
In May 1904, a few months after the crew broke ground, Robert Speer was sworn in as Denver's mayor, bringing with him big plans for a classically styled city, one modeled on the designs of the old masters. And Dryden, who went on to design 22 more Denver schools, had set the tone with his plans for Evans Elementary.
Completed in 1905, the Evans school could accommodate 750 children. When the weather was good, students tended plants and did calisthenics on the roof, beneath a bright copper dome that crowned a classical-style portico -- a structure designed to rival those of fifteenth-century Florence.
The dome -- if not the boys and girls who stretched, bent and jumped jacks in its shadow -- was visible for miles, from across the flat plains and from the attic windows of the new Queen Anne mansions just east of downtown. Three stories high, the school loomed over the low-slung storefronts and modest one-story houses that surrounded it. Only the brand-new State Capitol and the old courthouse stood higher, towering over the growing city below.
Denver had a new vision, the City Beautiful, of which the Evans school was a fine, early example. It was functional and practical -- the use of wood was limited, and fire exits were plentiful -- and at the same time uncommonly stylized, with mosaic floors made of handcrafted tiles, pillars with Ionic capitals, wrought-iron railings, bay windows and decorative plaster ceilings.
"In point of beauty, utility, accommodations and appointments, it will compare favorably with any school building in the city," Florence Burton predicted in the December 25, 1904, edition of the Burton Scrapbook. "In some respects it is the superior of any now occupied. The experience of recent years has been taken advantage of. The directors of school district Number One believe they have a building that is a model for a school."
Although the Evans school is still considered a superior structure, it has been empty for decades, its huge windows boarded up, its classrooms bare. A chain-link fence has kept out most intruders, but not the elements. The wood floors are warped from water damage; the roof tiles have decayed. Once a treasure, it is now a 65,000-square-foot problem smack in the middle of a booming neighborhood.
Richard Eber and his brother, Alan, purchased the Evans school from Denver Public Schools for $620,000 in 1974. After court-ordered busing inspired white flight from the city to the suburbs, DPS had to close the school and unload the building. The Ebers had no real experience as developers, and no clear vision for the place. But they'd heard that another potential buyer planned to demolish the school, and they didn't want to see that happen. Eventually, they figured, they'd divide it up into offices or high-end condos, even though the neighborhood was then more of a weed garden and hobo haven than a residential oasis.
"We didn't have any concrete goals for it," Dick Eber says. "We didn't want to do something that wasn't right. The important thing to us was that we saved it from being torn down. At that time, the mentality was to tear everything down. It wouldn't have been standing for very much longer otherwise."
So the brothers boarded up the building and left it alone while they pursued other business opportunities. As A&R Investment Company, the Ebers now manage properties in Grand Junction and Denver. Dick handles most of the issues related to the Evans school.
"Beyond its history, the Evans school is such a visual icon," says Dale Heckendorn of the Colorado Historical Society. "It continues to convey the residential character of the neighborhood and gives you some idea of how many families were once living in the area. So many of those structures have been lost to fire or neglect. Architecturally, it is a clear example of what was going on in the city."
But there's not much going on at the school today. The building sits smack in the middle of an area that's been polished into the Golden Triangle, where new galleries, shops, cafes, bars and restaurants pop up like prairie dogs. And still the property is vacant -- even though Dick Eber, now 69, has been vowing to change that for thirty years.
Eber is not a hurried person. He talks slowly and deliberately and takes a careful interest in everything around him. He loves old cars, considers himself a historian and has been a member of the National Trust for Historic Properties for twenty years. He knows the history of the Evans school, and of the territorial governor whose name it bears. He loves the building so much, he says, that he wants to make sure its future is handled just the right way.
"I understand that there are some people who are frustrated, and others who would bend over backwards for it," he adds. "My question is, 'Isn't it worth waiting for?' We want to make sure that whatever is done is done at the right time. Isn't that worth something?"
Not enough, say many of the school's neighbors, who feel they've waited too long as it is. Under the Ebers' ownership, the Evans school has deteriorated into an eyesore -- an embarrassment in an area that will soon host a high-profile architectural event, the Denver Art Museum expansion designed by Daniel Libeskind.
"This isn't just any building," says Margerie Hicks, executive director of the Golden Triangle Neighborhood Association. "For one thing, it's across from what will be a world-class art museum. This neighborhood is going to be getting international attention. TV cameras will be rolling; the world will be watching. And that's what will be in the background?"
"It is a symbol of the neighborhood," says architect Dennis Humphries, whose firm, Humphries Poli Architects, sits a few blocks from the Evans school. "It will even feel stronger once the Libeskind expansion is done, because the two buildings will engage in a dialogue about history. The former school certainly reflects the history of the neighborhood when it was a much stronger residential area."
Hicks and Humphries have dreamed about the building for years, projecting ideas and plans onto the boarded-up windows and weather-beaten walls. Humphries is now president of the GTNA, and he plans to make the Evans school a priority. At the group's annual meeting on January 27, he referred to the structure as the "largest gem on the ring" in a neighborhood that's worked hard to clean up its small stones.
"In eight years in my position, on average, a month does not pass that I don't get a call from someone who wants to buy, lease, partner, consult, invest in or do something with that school," Hicks says. "The opportunities that the owners have had have been infinite. It's come from every segment of the city."
Major cultural institutions -- including the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Public Library and the Colorado Historical Society -- have all brainstormed ways in which their futures might align with that of the Evans school. In 2000, the Historical Society approached Eber about a possible partnership and commissioned an appraisal of the property, but negotiations stalled in the early stages. A host of architects, engineers, artists, city planners and historians has offered to aid the restoration efforts by conducting design workshops and drawing up plans, sometimes for free, but they've gotten nowhere.
"Dick participated with open ears, but nothing ever happened," Humphries says of his own attempts. "Beyond that, we never got involved, because it seemed an exercise in futility."
"Dick has been reluctant to give up control -- to sell to a developer or even to partner with someone," says Ira Selkowitz of Historic Denver, which has drafted grant applications on behalf of the school and lobbied to have it recognized as a local landmark. "One of the common refrains is that he's waiting to assemble his team. Truly, a project of this magnitude could not be pulled off by a novice, no matter how well-intentioned. So our position has been, 'Well, we'd be happy to be on that team. Who is the team?'"
Eber seems genuinely bewildered to hear that people think he isn't eager to cooperate. He's met with several potential buyers and more activists, architects and engineers than he can remember, but he says plans have never moved forward because the right plan has never emerged. "People don't realize what's involved," he explains. "My door is open to anyone who wants to give me some insight, input or to help come up with ideas. And we've never talked about selling as a concept. But is the building an unreplaceable part of our existence? I don't think so, if we found a useful, commonplace purpose for it with another buyer."
Craig Nassi of BCN Development is known for properties that are far from commonplace. He built the Euro-style Belvedere, Prado and Beauvallon high-rises that now dominate the Golden Triangle. Five years ago, he offered Eber $5 million for the Evans property. Nassi hoped to restore the building and convert it into high-end condominiums.
"I would have lived in that place," he says. "It's got so much significance, Old World details. I did everything I could to try to buy it. But Dick was telling me in a laughing voice that there wasn't enough money in the world for him to sell it. I have a great deal of respect for him because of that, actually. Yes, it's a shame that it's sitting there vacant. But Dick loves the building, and it's his right to do whatever he wants with it, even if it's nothing.
"I get very frustrated when people are so critical of him," Nassi continues. "The owners have the right to do what they want as long as the building isn't endangering anyone or posing a hazard. He pays his property taxes and insurance; he keeps up the maintenance; the roof is not collapsing. Dick Eber is not obligated to sell or to build that property up. He's done nothing wrong."
Tracy Rollert's taste for adventure may have been hereditary. When she was a young girl, she and her father would explore abandoned buildings around their home state of Nebraska.
Friends say she could talk anyone into anything.
Jim Farley didn't need to be talked into much. After he met Tracy in a bar in September 2002, the two became inseparable, in love, mismatched as they may have seemed. Blonde and blue-eyed Tracy was from an upper-class family, had a three-year-old son and was sweet, open and Midwestern. Jim was eleven years younger and thoroughly East Coast -- a dark-haired, hot-tempered boy from the Bronx. But they were drawn to each other from the start. Tracy was going through a rough period -- she and her husband were in the midst of a divorce -- and Jim helped ease her depression and frustration. They tried to keep things light and teasing: Tracy hated hip-hop music, so Jim once programmed all of the stations on her car radio to a local rap station, just to make her crazy. But there was also tenderness. When the two were separated for ten days over the holidays, Tracy wrote Jim ten cards, one each day, telling him she loved him.
"We were always doing things just to make each other laugh or feel good," Jim says. "She was silly, and she was always smiling. I think I've always been kind of a sad person, but I wasn't sad with her." Tracy was attractive and attentive, and he couldn't believe she liked him.
"She was beautiful," he remembers. "I kept asking her, 'What are you doing with me? When are you going to leave me?'"
Some of Tracy's friends were asking the same questions. For all its fun, the relationship was also volatile and sometimes reckless, and Tracy's girlfriends disapproved. The couple escaped into each other, and into drugs: Some nights they hit clubs and parties, drinking and taking pills; others, they stayed up all night watching All in the Family reruns and Star Trek movies. They fought a lot, and the police once showed up at Tracy's home in Parker after neighbors called to report a domestic dispute. Jim, who already had a record in Douglas County for a marijuana-possession charge, was arrested for disturbing the peace, and Tracy's husband later asked a judge to prohibit Jim from being around their three-year-old son.
But by spring, things were looking better. Tracy had found a job she liked, as an account executive at the graphic-design firm where Jim freelanced as a computer programmer when he wasn't attending classes. She was in a support group for her drug problem, committed to getting clean and being a good mom. She and Jim had agreed that Tracy would spend more time at her own house and Jim would sleep more nights at his Capitol Hill apartment. They envisioned a future together -- even talked about having kids -- but wanted to be sure that they first found their way to solid, sober ground.
"We both realized what the drugs were doing to our personal lives, and we both decided it was time to start working things out," Jim says. "We loved each other, and we had problems, but many things about our relationship were perfect, even if other people couldn't see that."
Jim and Tracy decided to celebrate this new phase of their lives with a special day, and they spent weeks planning it. When the agreed-upon day -- Sunday, May 18, 2003 -- finally came, they got up early, played miniature golf in Thornton, then ate a big lunch at Applebee's. Feeling close and happy, they decided to have a few drinks at Applebee's bar, then a few more at another bar back in Denver. By 1 a.m., they were buzzed and not yet ready to go home. On the way back to Jim's apartment, they passed the Evans school -- a vacant building they'd both fantasized about checking out.
"I always thought it was fascinating, and Tracy loved old buildings. I think it made her feel close to her father," Jim says. "We both thought it was intriguing, the idea of just going in there for kicks. It was supposed to be fun.
"We'd passed it a bunch of times and always talked about it," he continues. "I can't remember whose idea it was to actually go in, because we were both game. It wasn't something that we planned on doing, but it was there, and it felt exciting, and we were both up for anything."
But they were also pretty drunk. They broke their flashlight trying to get in a first-floor window, and Jim couldn't pull himself up onto the same second-story ledge that Tracy had reached so easily. So he decided to go buy another flashlight. On his way back, he heard Tracy calling to him, then a screech. He looked up just in time to see her fall, flipping before she hit the ground. He ran over and saw the blood pooled in the corners of her mouth. He tried to revive her, called 911, did CPR again.
When the police arrived, they sent Tracy's body to the morgue. They took Jim to Denver City Jail, where he was held on suspicion of reckless endangerment and criminal trespass. A detective who'd responded to the call was looking at the case as a possible homicide.
"They kept telling me, 'Your girlfriend's dead, and you killed her,'" he remembers. "I didn't believe that she was dead; I thought about stories you hear about cops lying and making things up. I couldn't comprehend what was happening, and I thought they were trying to trick me."
Jim was placed on suicide watch. Despondent, angry and confused, he cussed out the detectives who interviewed him. An officer had found a small package of cocaine in his wallet, which added a drug-possession charge to his rapidly expanding rap sheet. Jim said it wasn't his, that he didn't know how it had gotten there. Nothing was clear except for the flashbulb memories of that night: how Tracy had called out to him as he'd returned with the flashlight -- "Don't forget my shoes," she'd said -- and then how limp and lifeless she'd been. Thinking about it made Jim want to die, too.
He was in jail for two days before he finally bonded out.
Patricia Holcomb spends a lot of her time thinking about how to save things. The head of Colorado Preservation Inc.'s Endangered Places program, she monitors sites around the state that are at risk of being lost -- to time, to development, to neglect, to history. Each year, the non-profit agency produces a list of Colorado's most endangered places, culled from nominations submitted by the public.
Holcomb has labored on behalf of bridges -- the Old Fruita Bridge in Mesa County, which made the list in 2002 -- and rural structures, like the Goodnight Barn in Pueblo, also listed in 2002. She's fought to save a grocery store -- Stranges in Mesa County, 2001 -- and an old wooden building in Routt County called the Rock Creek Stage Stop, listed in 2000.
"Whenever I get into a project, there's a spectrum," Holcomb says. "At one end you've got an endangered site, at the other end a site that is safe. Getting from point A to Z is a tremendous process. Part of the point is to bring people out of the woodwork, to see if there are people who might be able to help. And that can happen. Last year, someone from California came in and ensured that someone bought a place -- a hotel down in La Junta. And it may bring forth people who have history or can bring forth photographs. Those kinds of things are important when you're trying to do preservation work."
Since introducing the endangered-places list in 1998, Colorado Preservation Inc. has logged six successful saves. Twenty-nine more sites are considered to be in a "progress" mode. Two have been lost: Currigan Exhibition Hall and the Christian Science Church in Victor. Seven are on "alert" status, including the Evans school, which was listed in 2000. "There have been some difficulties with getting things moving along," Holcomb says of the site.
The Evans school has made other lists, too. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, after a University of Colorado architecture student submitted an application on its behalf. And in December 2001, it was designated as a historic structure by the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission. The dual designations brought some protections against demolition. Although being added to the Denver list meant that any renovation plans would have to be approved by the commission, it also provided tax-reduction opportunities for the owners and allowed them to apply for State Historical Fund grants. In 2002, Historic Denver helped the Ebers gain a state grant for a complete architectural assessment of the property, the first step toward an earnest renovation effort.
"We fell in love with the building," says Nan Anderson of Andrews & Anderson Architects, the Golden firm hired to perform the assessment. An intern with the architectural firm was so enamored with the Evans school that he built a chip-board model of it; Anderson and her colleagues use the model to puzzle out possible plans for the structure and to try to inspire the owners to take some action. "There are few buildings that we've worked on that have captured us in such a way," she adds. "It just has some wonderful detail, unique and institutional designs on its interior. The handrails, the mosaic floors. For a school, I would consider it high-style. It has a much higher level of detail than what you see in most historic schools."
The assessment took six months, cost more than $40,000 and produced some surprisingly good news when it was completed in January 2003: The building was sound, its mechanical, architectural and structural systems intact. But it needed a major facelift of both its interior and exterior, and that would be costly. Andrews & Anderson estimated that it would run more than $9 million. That figure represents more than half of the State Historical Fund's annual grant allotments. The Colorado Historical Society typically disburses about $14 million among dozens of non-profit organizations each year; its largest grant, $8.2 million for safety upgrades at the State Capitol, was awarded in January.
"It wasn't as bad as it could have been, and that's a testament to the quality of the building itself," Anderson says of the repair estimate. "But, as with all vacant buildings, you get to the point where the roof starts leaking, things start to decay and deteriorate -- then you're getting to that point where it gets steeply more expensive. I think that the money, as far as Dick's hope of getting a return on an investment, just does not pencil out."
And Eber agrees, to a point. "It's endless, the number of facets you have to go into," he says. "Finding the ultimate right use is a challenge, because it has to be financially possible. There are a lot of things about that building that are valuable that are not necessarily financial: It's something to love when you know it and understand it. But it takes money. It has to make some kind of practical sense. It's a tremendous financial undertaking, but we're going to give it a try."
Nassi, whose BCN Development controls roughly half of the residential real estate in the Golden Triangle, thinks that the economics of renovating the Evans school would be tricky, even for a seasoned developer. The market is pretty good -- the going rate is $70 per square foot -- but opportunities are still limited to those with deep pockets, or a high tolerance for risk. "Not all developers have the capacity to develop a property into a financial success, and no investor is going to hand over $10 million to someone who doesn't have experience turning a property around," he says. "I think that it takes three things: financial responsibility, possibilities of the market -- will it bear selling another hundred condos, for example -- and having the guts to do it. Most developers are risk-takers; some people are not. I would say Dick Eber, who I respect a lot and think is a sweet man, is not a risk-taker."
After the death of Tracy Rollert, discussion over the building's future intensified. If anyone blamed the Ebers for the accident, they didn't do so out loud. Rollert and Farley had clearly been trespassing on private property, and the Evans school has a good record with the police and fire departments. The building is fenced, well-boarded and armed with a security system -- but standing there empty, it still poses a dangerous temptation.
Hicks once called the fire department when a tree on the property caught fire. "There was this little circle lined up around it, and you could tell there were some street people having a little campfire," she remembers. "It was late; I just happened upon it. It could have easily burned." As for Rollert's death, it was "very sad but not surprising," Hicks says. "It's actually a miracle it hadn't happened to that point."
"The city was very concerned about the fact that this young woman died on this property, which had been the center of so much discussion for many years," recalls former Denver councilwoman Susan Barnes-Gelt, who, along with then-councilman Ed Thomas, met with the Ebers and representatives of the Denver Community Planning and Development Agency to discuss the fate of the building. "The feeling was that we needed to be more vigilant in making sure that something happened with the school, and that as long as things continued as they were, nothing was going to happen. We started taking a look at some of the ordinances that related to neglected and derelict buildings and putting some pressure on."
On May 27, the agency's Neighborhood Inspection Services division, which oversees 128 vacant properties in Denver, cited A&R Investments for violating a rarely invoked building ordinance that prohibits owners from leaving a property unoccupied for three months without "evidence of substantial construction activity." Although the city had fielded a smattering of complaints about the building over the years -- for things like graffiti and illegal use of barbed wire -- this was the property's first formal infraction.
"It is not unlawful to own a vacant building," says Julius Zsako, an administrator with the planning department. "But people in the Golden Triangle are getting a little tired of the property, and so were some members of the council. The neighborhood is changing, and the patience of the neighbors is changing, so that what might have been acceptable a few years ago is no longer acceptable. I think we've raised the bar a bit."
In June, the Ebers agreed to make core improvements to the property within six months. Many of the requirements were superficial -- for instance, they were to do a thorough site cleanup, replace broken windows and paint the exterior. But the agreement also called for the owners to hire an engineer and architect to assess what steps were needed to turn the building into an office -- the Ebers' most recent projected use of the school. The Ebers were given a deadline of January 31 to complete the first phase of the plans.
They missed it. Although trash and weeds have disappeared from the exterior and construction crews have begun chipping away at the layers of paint, the building is still a shambles. The Ebers now have until a February 17 meeting with the city's planning agency to explain why that is. At that point, agency officials will decide whether to extend the deadline or invoke more drastic measures, possibly fining the owners almost $1,000 a day or turning the matter over to the courts. If a judge found the Ebers to be in violation of Denver's building codes, he could place a lien on the property or force it into receivership. Or the city could pursue a friendly condemnation, forcing the brothers to sell for the city's price.
But taking control of a privately owned building is not a precedent the city's in any hurry to set. "The good news is that we don't live in the U.S.S.R. in 1966," says Zsako. "The other side of the coin is that due process takes time, and property owners have rights."
"The city has no precedent for how to deal with a situation like this," says Hicks. "But now, because the city kind of has its feet to the fire, the time is right to really try and do something. There have been attempts. We can talk until we're blue in the face to Dick Eber. But this is the most pressure they've ever had to do something."
"There had been a reservoir of goodwill at one point, but I feel that's been drawn down a bit," says Kathleen Brooker, head of Historic Denver. "People who were very enthusiastic about the building have grown weary."
Not Dick Eber, though. Bad weather delayed the first phases of the redevelopment plan he'd agreed to with the city, he says. But he considers it only a minor setback, since everyone he talks to -- from people at the Golden Triangle Neighborhood Association to the mayor's office to the State Historical Fund -- gives him reason for optimism.
"The timing and the practicality of this thing have to be just right. And the timing is now," he says, smiling. "We have to look at every little thing that needs to be done. We're getting some terrific insight from some design teams and architects and tapping other resources of talent. We're ready to start all the design process -- painting, repainting, repairing windows. To me, the most exciting thing is to imagine seeing the lights turn on, to see it all lit up and beautiful.
"I'm not looking like I'm over here and other people are over there," he says. "There's a tremendous amount of support and interest in this. The state has given us good indications that they want to work with us -- the city, too. There's a tremendous amount of interest in this neighborhood now. Four or five years ago, there was no energy, no enthusiasm. But that's changed. There's incredible support for this building, and my door is wide open to anyone who wants to help."
Hicks doubts that. "I've heard their description so many times I know it by heart," she says. "Dick Eber is so believable, and there's always some person who hasn't heard it before. 'We've saved the building from demolition,' they'll say. 'We're interviewing architects now. In six months, we'll be ready to go.' He's gotten thirty years out of that. I know that there is no rational business decision to support that building being empty for thirty years," she adds. "There is none. Oh, they're waiting for the market? They've had incredible opportunities."
Hicks and Humphries have already met with administrators at the nearby P.S. 1 charter school to discuss moving the school from its cramped campus to the Evans property. They stress that the talks are in the very early stages -- "We're dreaming," Hicks says -- and that while the move would appeal to preservationists and grant-givers, finding permanent funding in the already cash-strapped educational system would be difficult.
Still, even an impossible dream is better than inaction, according to Humphries. "The worst case is that nothing gets done," he says. "The school is physically and emotionally the center of the Triangle. Nearly everyone in the city is familiar with the structure. Leaving it vacant is not an option anymore."
Jim Farley goes out of his way to avoid the Evans school. He's got enough reminders of what happened there.
In the months following the accident, the memories were so strong that he obliterated them with alcohol and was hospitalized after slitting his wrists. His parents flew from the Bronx to Denver twice to look after him, staging interventions with a few of his close friends.
"I think it was a cry for help, because if I'd really had the guts to do it, I would have hurt myself more," he says. "I just missed her so much. I was trying to escape the pain, and instead I just caused more -- for my family, especially. It's just this fucked-up cycle where people tell you that in time things will get better, but you just can't see it."
The reckless-endangerment and criminal-trespass charges against him were dropped; in December, he received a deferred judgment on the cocaine-possession charge. As a condition of his sentence, he must attend behavior-modification classes to alter his attitudes toward alcohol and drugs. He also attends Mass every week.
"I saw psychiatrists and therapists after it happened, but I think that made it worse," Jim says. "It's like a sore or a wound on your skin. If you keep rubbing it and rubbing it, it's going to break the skin and bleed eventually. I don't want to constantly rehash what happened for a bunch of strangers. My parents are my counselors, and church helps me deal with some of the guilt. Plus, that's the only place I can communicate with Tracy."
An image of her fall is always lurking somewhere in his mind.
Some of Jim's friends have stopped calling. So have employers who used to hire him for freelance gigs. He's dropped out of school and is looking for a job; his parents have spent thousands on his court costs. He knows some people blame him for Tracy's death. Sometimes he does, too.
"She trusted me, and she trusted that she was safe when she was with me, and I feel like I violated her trust," he says. "I've gone through my life and done a lot of reckless things, and nothing bad ever happened. If we'd had just one moment where we stopped and said to each other, 'We shouldn't do this; it's not right,' she might still be alive. We never realized how close we were to hurting ourselves."