After Kevin Ives and his best friend were run over by a train, the state medical examiner ruled that they had smoked so much marijuana that they lay down on the tracks and did not hear the roar of the oncoming Union Pacific freight.
Dr. Fahmy Malak's report said the boys slept as if in a coma, motionless, in identical positions, their legs across the rails and their torsos between the tracks, as the train bore down with horn blaring and bells clanging.
But the youths' parents refused to accept Malak's ruling of accidental death. It was extremely unlikely that marijuana could have had such an extreme effect, they said, or that the boys would pass out in identical positions.
'We Will Pursue It'
"We're willing to go to any length to solve this thing," said Larry Ives, Kevin's father. "All we want to know is what happened. If someone can convince us beyond a doubt that this is what happened, we can let it go. But until then, as long as there's a doubt, we will pursue it."
Their determination prompted investigations by a grand jury, the FBI and the Arkansas State Police into the Aug. 23, 1987, deaths of Ives, 17, and Don Henry, 16, on the tracks about 15 miles southwest of Little Rock.
In June, grand jurors issued a preliminary report saying the deaths were "probably homicide." The grand jury has continued meeting but has not rendered a final report.
"We feel that people connected in the drug business know something about these deaths," special deputy prosecuting attorney Dan Harmon said last month. Several witnesses who came before the grand jury have been charged with drug trafficking and other offenses.
Report Accepted at First
The boys' parents initially accepted Malak's autopsy report, "not knowing any more about marijuana than we did," Ives said.
His wife, Linda, began reading books about marijuana and its effects. They talked to experts on marijuana.
"The more we found out about it, the less likely it seemed that that was the real cause," Ives said.
Ives, coincidentally a Union Pacific engineer, said he recreated the death scene in his mind during late-night train runs.
"Several times, I've tried to simulate the situation and see how much reaction time I would have, to get an idea of exactly how much time the boys had after the horns started blowing and all that to make some type of movement," Ives said.
The boys had told Don's parents that they were going hunting, and a .22-caliber rifle and flashlight were found at the death scene. Several students said the youths told them that they were going "spotlighting" for deer, using a light to temporarily blind the animals and make them easier to shoot.
Smoked Night Before Deaths
Witnesses at a public hearing in February said they smoked marijuana with Kevin and Don the night before their deaths, with estimates ranging from one cigarette to about five shared by a group of nine teen-agers.
At the same hearing, Malak stood by his judgment that the "psychedelic" effects of marijuana could have knocked the the boys out.
The results of an independent autopsy have not been made public, but Saline County deputy prosecutor Richard Garrett has presented testimony from medical experts and quoted researchers as calling it "highly unlikely, if not impossible, for a person to pass out from smoking marijuana."
"Common sense would also tell you that it would not be probable that any two people would pass out at the same time from the use of any drug or alcohol, and for them to pass out in exactly the same position would really be improbable," Garrett said.