Throw It All Down

That was a crazy game of poker
I lost it all
But someday I'll be back again
And I'm never to fall
Never to fall never to fall.

'Crazy Game of Poker,' OAR

The Messenger

Billy Flores had just finished dinner with his grandparents in California when he checked his voice mail. The voice was that of Michael Lanahan, but it sure didn't sound like something Lanahan would say.

"I just want to tell you I love you, buddy," the voice said. "I'm not going to be around for a while, and I just really, really, really want you to take care of yourself. Please, please take care of yourself. I miss you. Goodbye."

It was Saturday, October 22, 2005. Flores and Lanahan had become close friends on the University of Colorado's swim team. Flores had graduated last winter and left Colorado. Lanahan had dropped out, and there was a whole story behind that, a Very Boulder story about booze and bad behavior, a date-rape charge and life on the lam and in jail.

Flores had been back in Boulder twice in the past few months and had hung out with his old buds, and Michael had been putting his life back together. He was working for a moving company. He was sober. He was longboarding down mountain passes and riding an inner tube through Class 5 rapids and doing all kinds of extreme-sports craziness. He seemed fine. But now something was horribly wrong.

Flores punched in Lanahan's number and heard him pick up. "So I got your message," he said. "What's wrong? If there's anything at all I can do, I'll do it. What can I do?"

The voice on the other end sounded far away. And outside. And drunk. It said it didn't need anything. It just wanted to tell him goodbye.

"Billy, I'm in such deep shit," Lanahan said. "All this shit for something I didn't even do."

"Calm down," Flores said. "What's going on?"

Lanahan muttered something about probation. He was seeing this girl, he said, and he was going to end up in jail for it.

"There's only three ways out of this," Lanahan said. "I can go back to jail. I can run -- and that destroyed me last time. Or I can do what I'm about to do now."

"So you're thinking of killing yourself."

"Billy, I am going to kill myself."

And that was when Billy Flores found out that his friend had a rope around his neck. Lanahan was in the mountains somewhere. He'd found a high tree and a rock to jump from, and he had the rope around his neck. And there was nothing anybody could say that would stop it. He just wanted everybody to understand why he was doing it. He felt Billy could handle it. Billy could give them the message.

Frantic, Flores tried to keep him talking. "Dude, just take the rope off your neck," he said. "I'll get the next plane out and we'll talk about this."

"Billy, I'm completely wasted. Even if I wanted to, I can't stand up much longer. I just wanted to say goodbye. I'm really sorry."

He kept apologizing. Flores pleaded with him. He could feel the voice slipping away. "I'm going to hang up the phone now," it said. Then it was gone.

Flores called back.

No answer.

Well you can lose all ur money,
you can lose all ur gold,
You can never lose ur heart,
you can never lose ur soul,
That's why I'm not gonna quit
and I'm never gonna stop
I could not give a shit
because I have the drop...

'Crazy Game of Poker'

The Life of the Party

Despite the ongoing media obsession with CU's darker side -- the endless stories about binge drinking, campus scandals and alleged sex crimes involving athletes -- the strange fate of Michael Lanahan has been completely ignored. His sex-assault case generated a burst of self-righteous condemnation from a Boulder Daily Camera columnist, but his shocking death on the Flatirons last fall drew not a whisper from the same paper, aside from a paid funeral notice ("Michael Patrick Lanahan of Denver, formerly of Boulder, died Sunday.... He was 23").

The dailies have been far more generous with another Michael Lanahan, the stepfather of Gordie Bailey, a CU student who died from binge drinking during a 2004 fraternity initiation; Bailey's parents have become crusaders for change on the Boulder campus. Yet what happened to the other Michael Lanahan may say more about the confusions of college sex, the way a single drunken evening can scar many lives, the vagaries of crime and punishment for a young man heading nowhere on full throttle, than the guardians of CU's morals want to hear.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast