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Touching Back : Payam Saadat Returns to Football After Losing Left Hand in Explosion

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On Thursday, almost 1 1/2 years after losing his left hand in a pipe bomb explosion, Payam Saadat will wear uniform No. 44 to honor his deceased teammate when Washington State plays Illinois at Chicago’s Soldier Field.

The former St. Monica High standout was injured and his friend and teammate Harvey M. (Buddy) Waldron IV killed when a bomb they constructed exploded in Waldron’s truck in Pullman, Wash., on April 19, 1993.

“For all that I went through, no one gave me a chance to be back on the field,” said Saadat, 21, who was not charged in the incident.

“Every time I walk on the field wearing his number, I will be playing for two people--me and the spirit of him inside me.”

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Hard work and determination made Saadat and Waldron football players. Curiosity and poor judgment cost them dearly.

Before the accident, they were junior non-scholarship players who rarely saw action in varsity games. Saadat played in one varsity game each during his sophomore and junior seasons.

Then came the explosion.

“We were being curious and mischievous,” Saadat said. “I’m not going to say, ‘I didn’t want to do it.’ We were just going to lay it in the wheat field and let it go off. We meant no harm.”

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Police said Saadat and Waldron assembled a bomb at Saadat’s apartment using an 8-inch-long, 1 1/2-inch wide galvanized pipe, filled with gunpowder and wired to an alarm clock. They had planned to detonate it in a wheat field outside Pullman.

The bomb had a 30-minute delay and the two planned to watch it explode from Saadat’s apartment on a hillside.

Saadat told police that he held the bomb in his lap while Waldron drove his 1978 utility vehicle. Saadat said they heard a sizzle when Waldron stopped the truck in the 300 block of Irving Street about 11:15 p.m. on April 19, 1993, police said.

While Saadat checked the wires, the bomb exploded in his lap and the vehicle went into motion when Waldron’s foot slipped off the brake and onto the accelerator, police reports state.

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“The car was never in park,” Saadat said. “We ran on top of another (parked) car. That’s what stopped the vehicle.”

Saadat was taken to Pullman Memorial Hospital and then flown by helicopter to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he was treated for 11 days. In addition to losing his left hand two inches below the wrist, he suffered burns to his left leg, which needed four skin grafts, and nearly lost his right hand, a hospital official said.

Waldron, 22, of Bellevue, Wash., died from head injuries at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Wash., a day after the explosion, according to the Spokane County coroner’s office. A piece of shrapnel entered his skull through his right eye, police said.

Pullman police conducted a joint investigation with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. While searching Saadat’s apartment, Detective Chris Tennant of the Pullman Police Department said another bomb and bomb-making materials were discovered. A book called “Poor Man’s James Bond” was also found. “It was a book on bombs with the page turned to how to make time bombs,” Tennant said.

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After a one-year investigation, the case was dismissed and no charges were filed.

Saadat joined Washington State as a non-scholarship player in 1990 after playing four seasons at St. Monica High under Coach Angelo Jackson. He was a two-year starting offensive guard and captain of the Mariners’ 1989 team, which won the Santa Fe League championship. He played on the Cougars’ junior varsity team and appeared in varsity games against Oregon State in 1991 and against Temple in 1992.

As a redshirt last season, Saadat took part in winter conditioning. By March, he was working out in pads during spring drills.

“I overcame the biggest thing and that’s the mental part of losing my hand,” Saadat said.

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Saadat, a five-year varsity walk-on, will be a second-string middle linebacker used in passing situations and backup on all special teams.

“He is an inspiration to the players and the coaches,” Washington State defensive coordinator Bill Doba said. “What he lacks in athletic ability, he makes up with hard work and determination. If he had more speed, he would be a starter.”

When Saadat returned to fall practice Aug. 11, he was admired by his teammates for showing courage to come back and play.

“If I drop a ball, defensive players holler at me. They have not excluded me because of my handicap, but they also aren’t giving me any special favors.”

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During a scrimmage, Saadat intercepted a pass.

“We’re probably the only team in the country to put a kid with one hand in the game for passing situations,” Doba said. “But he’s been around for five seasons and he knows our defensive package as well as anyone.”

Saadat has trouble talking about the incident and has avoided his St. Monica classmates and teachers since he returned home last summer.

“I pretty much avoided everyone but my family and closest friends when I came back to Santa Monica,” he said. “I needed time to do my own thing and get my life back on track.”

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Waldron’s parents have helped ease Saadat’s guilt.

“It was hard, naturally, to see them,” said Saadat, who met Waldron’s parents at their home only four days before the accident.

“They came to see me in the hospital and treated me like they were second parents. We still keep in touch.”

Saadat has regained the 30 pounds he lost while recovering in the hospital. Using a prosthetic hook on his left arm, Saadat is able to lift weights at 6 every morning.

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Saadat wears a bullet-shaped shell over his left arm, which is covered by a jelly-filled lining and another shell.

“You don’t know how much you use two hands until you lose one of them,” said Saadat, who is right-handed. “I struggle with everything from tying my shoes to putting on my clothes.

“The toughest part is being patient and not get aggravated,” he said. “I understand now that it takes 10 minutes for me to tie my shoe.”

The one thing that can’t be replaced is the loss of his friend.

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“Buddy and I had a good relationship,” Saadat said. “He pushed me and I pushed him. When they told me he had died, I felt another piece of me was gone.”


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