Tom Sorensen

Sorensen Classic: The final days of freedom for Rae Carruth

Rae Carruth’s last days of freedom are remembered for the black shirt and leather jacket he wore at a second bond hearing, and for the Toyota trunk he was in when he was captured in Tennessee.
Rae Carruth’s last days of freedom are remembered for the black shirt and leather jacket he wore at a second bond hearing, and for the Toyota trunk he was in when he was captured in Tennessee. Associated Press

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on Dec. 16, 1999:

Rae Carruth was apprehended in the trunk of a Toyota at a Best Western motel in Wildersville, Tenn.

If you were wondering about the quality of his life as a fugitive, this was it.

Some people are better fugitives than others. Eric Rudolph apparently subsisted on nuts, berries and the kindness of lunatics, and neither he nor his remains have been found. Carruth lasted little more than a day.

He was supposed to turn himself in Tuesday afternoon after Cherica Adams died of complications that resulted from gunshot wounds. Carruth and three others have been charged with first-degree murder in her death.

The other three never posted bond. Carruth had, and he was free for eight days. Tuesday made nine, and Wednesday would have been 10.

But where could he go? Carruth is more recognizable now than he ever was as a Carolina Panthers receiver. No player, not even quarterback Steve Beuerlein, the reigning NFL player of the week, got his picture in as many newspapers or on as many television shows this week or month.

When you think of Carruth now, he is not wearing the electric blue, black, silver and white of the Panthers. He is wearing a black leather jacket and a hard, unwavering expression. Can you remember his uniform number this season? You're more likely to remember the black sweater he wore beneath the jacket as he walked out of a Charlotte jail.

The Panthers cleared away the last vestige of Carruth earlier Wednesday. His locker, which was between the lockers of fellow receivers Muhsin Muhammad and Donald Hayes, remains, but Carruth's name no longer is on it. The new occupant is Jerry Jensen, a linebacker on the injured reserve list.

While the Panthers move forward, hoping to win their fourth game in five weeks, Carruth took a different route, a route that led him to a Best Western in Wildersville, Tenn.

Was he trying to take one long, last taste of the life he had led? Or was he running away, perhaps to another country and a new life?

If Carruth had reported to jail Tuesday, he likely would have faced a year in jail before he went to trial. And if convicted, he might never leave.

Perhaps he found neither prospect appealing. But did he have the survival skills to survive in the wilds, and did Rudolph have room in his cave?

Until Nov. 16, Carruth appeared to have a good life. He was a fragile football player with a healthy bank account, and he caught passes in the NFL, the league in which the kids who grow up running fly patterns dream of playing.

But if he committed the crime with which he is charged, how good could his life have been?

Adams was shot four times, and her son, Chancellor, was born 10 weeks prematurely, and Carruth disappeared.

But even during his Loomis-Fargo heist-quality stint as a fugitive, the end lurked, and Carruth had to know it. Remember when you were a kid and you were told you would be punished when your dad came home from work and no matter how much fun you tried to have in the interim, you failed?

Remove dad and substitute federal agents and large bail bondsmen and multiply the feeling you had by a million. What a way to live.

It's Dec. 16 now, a month to the day since the shooting of Cherica Adams, and time has failed to grant perspective.

No matter how many times you look at it, the act continues to be unfathomable and stupid and terribly wrong.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen