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Playing Through Pain Jason Mcendoo, Ryan Mcshane Continue To Heal Wounds After Accident That Killed Mcendoo’s Wife

More than a year after the accident, Jason McEndoo has yet to finish watching the videotape from his wedding.

Ryan McShane still won’t drive anything but the scooter he uses around campus. McEndoo still hasn’t listened to the old answering-machine tape, which includes the voice of his late wife, Michelle.

McShane still has nightmares about the accident, the one in which he was driving, the one in which Michelle was killed, the one for which he has felt such unrelenting guilt.

Until last month, McEndoo had gone out of his way to avoid that fateful stretch of Interstate 90, west of Ellensburg, where McShane’s 1991 Ford Explorer had gone out of control.

McShane avoids long drives altogether, even as a passenger, and insists on flying instead.

There is much healing to be done.

But Jason McEndoo and Ryan McShane, senior teammates on the Washington State University football team, have made dramatic progress since July 14, 1996, when one life was lost and many more were changed forever.

They have taken different roads, uphill and winding, to a common ground. They are close friends again, even roommates during the football team’s ongoing two-a-day practices.

McEndoo learned to manage his pain and bitterness by opening up. He credits the many sessions spent with Dr. Jim Bauman, WSU’s sports psychologist.

There have also been long, profound conversations with Ruth Padgett, who befriended McEndoo after the accident and has since become his girlfriend.

He is learning to enjoy life again.

“It’s not a matter of forgetting about it or anything,” McEndoo says. “In a situation like this, it’s learning how to cope with it. It’s never going to leave me.”

McShane felt more comfortable dealing with his feelings inwardly. When he talked about things, he sought out relatives and a few close friends. He is opening up now more than ever.

“There are events that happen in your life that will stay with you forever,” McShane says. “You don’t forget something like that. My dad died when I was a freshman here and that always sticks with you.

“It just seems like Jason and I had to grow up awfully fast for 22-year-olds.”

Jason and Michelle, sweethearts since their freshman year at Aberdeen High School, were married June 15, 1996.

Less than a month later, they had gone to Seattle with McShane for the wedding of a teammate, center Cory Withrow. Michelle sang at the wedding.

Tragedy struck the following day - “a hot, lazy Sunday,” McShane recalls - when the three were driving back to Pullman. They were tired.

Michelle unbuckled her seat belt and lay down across the back seat. Before falling asleep, she reminded her husband, riding up front, to buckle up. McEndoo did.

With Michelle asleep, McEndoo dozed. McShane, who was not wearing his seat belt, also became weary.

“I put my head down for about a second - it was no longer, because when I realized what was going on, I was still on the road,” McShane recounts. “I was just on the left lane.

And I could have just - when I think about it, there’s probably about a million what-ifs I can always say in my head. “And I probably just could have gone into the side of the road and just, you know, scratched up the car. But instincts took over and I cranked the wheel and overcorrected it and ended up flipping the car about three or four times.

“I went out the sunroof, Michelle went out the back. We flew about 20, 25 feet.”

The Explorer came to rest on its top.

Michelle died at the scene; McEndoo escaped with scrapes and bruises.

McShane suffered multiple lacerations and needed surgery on his toe. A year later, fluid still builds up periodically in his hip. He has scars on his back, thigh and arm. They are trivial.

“The most important thing of the story isn’t how Jason and I are getting along,” McShane points out. “It’s really that Michelle’s life was lost. That’s really what’s important.” , Michelle J. Wild, less than a month past 22, was also a student at WSU, one semester from earning a degree in childhood development.

She had met McEndoo during their freshman year at Aberdeen High. It was 1989.

“We were in band together, so it kind of went from there,” he says. Michelle played the clarinet, Jason the …

“Well, I played the flute,” the 6-foot-5, 293-pound McEndoo says. “Actually, I played the tuba. Go figure.”

To hear him laugh is heartening.

“She was definitely a strongheaded person,” McEndoo continues. “She knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to tell you.

“She didn’t know a stranger. She wasn’t afraid to talk to people. She worked for Little Tykes (Child Care Center) here, really loved her job working with kids.”

That she’s gone doesn’t seem right. As McEndoo has come to recount her in life, McShane is flooded with memories of her death.

“I still, I have dreams about it,” McShane says. “The guilt I have built up, I can cope with it now, but there were times I don’t know how I could feel any other way.

“Everyone keeps telling you how it could happen to anyone, you know. Even Jason says, you know, ‘I don’t blame you.’ It’s hard to hear that when you know you feel a certain way.”

The last year has tested their friendship mightily. Only recently have they forged an understanding.

McEndoo is more outwardly emotional. There were many times last year when his emotions spilled over - during practices, in the locker room, even in the huddle. Seated in front of his locker, head down, the tears would flow.

Two lockers down, McShane searched for answers. Others kept their distance as well. Perhaps none had seen a presumably invincible giant cry. Tension mounted.

Fortunately, McEndoo wasn’t alone. His younger brother, Bobby, left Aberdeen for several months and lived with Jason in Pullman. “I can never repay him for that,” McEndoo says.

Padgett, who has since graduated from WSU, also provided support.

“She’s been my rock,” McEndoo says.

“Pretty much a godsend for him,” McShane adds.

Padgett was living in Yakima at the time of the accident. She heard about it and remembered the names. Once school resumed, she would have a class with McEndoo. Padgett wanted desperately to hear his story.

“I would come to class all dressed up and stuff so he would notice me,” Padgett says. “And when we first started talking, he didn’t even know I had a class with him, just didn’t have a clue. “

Emotionally spent, McEndoo was trapped in a miserable fog. Padgett persisted.

“It just happened,” McEndoo says. “That was the last thing going through my mind, to have somebody new come into my life.

“But at the same time, I wasn’t going to turn it down. I wasn’t going to say, ‘Hey, no, I’m not open to this.’ I thank God that she’s in my life. I was doing a nose-dive there and she kind of pulled me out.”

Prior to befriending McEndoo, Padgett hadn’t known any of the people affected by the accident. That was important, all agree.

Unbiased, she offered a fresh perspective and was a valuable listener. McEndoo had so much to share.

“Stories,” Padgett says, “stories from when Jason and Michelle were in high school to college years to their wedding, their honeymoon. Little things that, really, he hadn’t had a chance to share with anybody because she was lost so soon afterward.

“He didn’t really have a chance to tell anybody about the hat he bought her in Mexico or the T-shirt they bought at Disneyland.

“The little things were what was missing. It was really hard on him. He needed that. He needed to tell somebody, and I didn’t know, so why not tell me?

“We spent hours and hours and hours talking about her and him and them and the team and just everything.”

At first, they kept their relationship hidden, fearful of what others might think: What’s he doing with another woman? Isn’t he supposed to be grieving?

“He will always, always and forever love Michelle,” Padgett says, “but he’s got a big enough heart that it’s got room for the both of us, and I don’t mind sharing with her at all.”

Sharing their relationship with McEndoo’s friends would take more time yet.

“We were kind of a new couple at the time,” Padgett recalls, “so we tried to find people to double-date with or just to go out and hang out, and he would call and leave messages at four or five different places and nobody would call him back.

“Nobody wanted to call.”

And so they talked. And talked. And talked some more. Hours became weeks.

“Sometimes I would ask questions - I was curious enough,” Padgett says. “Maybe things that he wouldn’t have thought about talking about, but then once I asked him, he’d go, ‘Ah yeah,’ and then he’d comment about that.

“About the cruise and the honeymoon and about when he finally realized she was dead, what he did, when he held her in his arms, with blood kind of running out of her ear and knowing that his wife of less than a month was dying in his arms.

“It’s just pretty incredible.”

As McEndoo grew closer to Padgett, he and McShane were drifting apart. Neither knew how to confront the other. Outwardly, McShane seemed to be handling things with relative ease. McEndoo resented that.

“Some days I hated him, some days I loved him,” McEndoo says.

“Ryan has this way with people,” Padgett says. “Guys tended to follow with Ryan as opposed to Jason, and Jason kind of had a chip on his shoulder. He was pretty bitter about a lot of things and kind of took it out on the team and the guys.

“He isolated himself in a way, unknowingly.”

McShane’s feelings, shrouded within his easygoing facade, were no less genuine. Sharing them with McEndoo seemed natural, yet impossible.

“I didn’t know whether or not he wanted me around,” McShane says. “There’s emotions running 180 degrees different every day.” The turning point came this summer, after Sports Illustrated writer John Walters asked to interview them in Pullman for an upcoming story.

McEndoo and McShane had previously declined to discuss their predicament publicly. It was all too fresh. But the timing was finally right. The interviews, conducted over several days, would finally give them a chance to air things out.

“It was almost like a therapy session,” McEndoo says, “because he was talking about things and I was talking about things that neither one of us had talked about together, especially things we had never talked about to a third person, a reporter.

“But I thought it was good for the both of us, to be able to talk together about it.”

They decided to be roommates during two-a-days, an arrangement which not long ago might have seemed unthinkable. They had been roommates when each was a freshman, but that may as well have been two other guys.

“It’s funny, looking at freshmen coming in and they’re just fresh out of high school, and no one can hurt you, you’re on top of the world,” McShane says. “My five years, I guess you could say were humbling - not humbling, but a good learning experience.

“You go through so much. My mom always said, ‘You’ve gone through more than most people have to go through before they’re 50.’

“I guess you learn from some of these things.”

The learning continues.

As roommates once again, McEndoo and McShane have had much time to talk when the door to Room 305 in Streit Hall closes.

No topic is off-limits, from the accident to Michelle’s death, to rebuilding their friendship. Sometimes they just hang out and talk, almost like old times.

Football is important again.

Both are starting offensive linemen, and McEndoo is considered one of the best guards in the Pacific-10 Conference. McShane, 6-6 and 305 pounds, plays right tackle.

Each considered quitting the team before last season. Each is thankful he didn’t.

“There was a time where I didn’t know if I was going to do it or not, hang it up - school, football, you name it,” McEndoo says. “But then I sat there and talked to myself and said, ‘Well, what am I going to do? Am I going to sit around the rest of my life?’

“I kind of looked at football as my therapy, too. I used it to get things off my mind. I would come out here for 2 hours and practice and just kind of forget about everything.

“The problem with that was, after practice was over, I’d get back to the locker room and nothing had changed.”

Last summer marked the second time McShane considered hanging it up. The first came after his father, 46-year-old Terry McShane, died suddenly of a stroke after Ryan’s first year at WSU.

“Coming back was the best decision I made,” McShane says. “Things sort of work themselves out. Time heals all, I guess.”

At least one potentially divisive topic isn’t even an issue: the newspaper story in mid-June about a wrongful-death lawsuit supposedly pitting McEndoo against McShane.

In reality, the suit concerns insurance companies. Both had known about it for months when the wire story made headlines.

“The media had our faces together like it was some heavyweight bout and we were going at it or something,” McShane says.

Nothing could have been more misleading.

“I never filed it or did anything with it,” McEndoo says. “It’s the insurance companies… . I didn’t like how everybody tried to pit us. It’s not even an issue.”

The lawsuit story broke about the time McEndoo and McShane were dealing with more important issues. Specifically, the one-year anniversary of the accident.

July 14 was approaching with the inevitability of an incoming tide. It was upon them soon enough.

McShane was in Lake Tahoe, Nev., vacationing with family, when he picked up the telephone and made the call he knew he had to make.

“I never know how to deal with those kinds of things,” McShane says, “but I still wanted to call him just to let him know that I was thinking about everything that had gone on during the last year.”

He also wrote a letter to Michelle’s family. It was a difficult time. “To me, the anniversary was hard just because I kept thinking about the actual event taking place,” McShane says. “That’s what that date did to me. I’d keep seeing things, pictures, the car, Michelle.”

McEndoo appreciated the phone call. He spent most of that day alone with his thoughts, but it wasn’t a miserable time.

“Throughout the grieving process, sometimes you have a tendency to build things up in your mind,” McEndoo says. “You think so much about it that when that day comes, it’s like wow, it’s here, but it’s not as bad as I thought.

“I’m past where I thought I would be.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos (1 color)