Rae Carruth didn’t go rogue in Sacramento.
Some of his best days were here, where football was a passion, a path to something more grand after Valley High School.
And Carruth might just wind up back here, where he may find the only faces in the country that won’t grimace, frown or scowl at him.
Carruth has family here, and friends from a generation ago, or so he may hope. Carruth is our O.J. Simpson, and there’s no positive way to spin that.
A 1997 first-round NFL draft choice by the Carolina Panthers, Carruth will forever be known for his involvement in a horrific crime, the worst connected to a regional athlete, certainly in my 30 years on the regional sports beat for The Bee. Carruth on Monday morning was released from Sampson Correctional Institution, located some 190 miles east of Charlotte.
No one outside his immediate circle seems to knows where Carruth will go next. Curruth told WCOS-TV in Charlotte via phone call on Sunday, “I’m excited about just being out of here. I’m nervous just about how I’ll be received by the public. I still have to work. I still have to live. I have to exist out there, and it just seems like there is so much hate and negativity toward me. I’m actually somewhat frightened.”
Carruth was convicted in 2001 of masterminding the plot to have his pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams, killed on Nov. 16, 1999, in an effort to avoid any child support obligations. She was nearly eight months pregnant when she was shot four times in her car on a dark road near Charlotte by a gunman who testified that Carruth hired him.
In her desperate 911 call from a cell phone Carruth had given her, Adams said Carruth slowed his car in front of hers long enough for another car to pull up and shoot through her driver’s-side door. Ninety minutes after she was shot, Chancellor Lee Adams was born by emergency cesarean.
Chancellor is disabled, due to lack of oxygen tied to the shooting. He turns 19 next month. Adams died weeks after taking four bullets.
Carruth, 44 now, has been frightened before. He hid out in the trunk of a car in Tennessee after he posted bond for the crime, a man on the run. A condition of his bail was that he would turn himself in. Carruth had with him $3,900 in cash, stuffed into a woman’s purse.
As a teenager, Carruth was petrified at the idea of not earning an athletic scholarship, of not getting out of Sacramento, of not becoming “famous,” as he used to tell friends.
He grew up in Oak Park, with temptations at every corner. For a spell, Carruth was an Oak Park success story.
I have covered Carruth since his sophomore season at Valley, in 1989. I remember his speed, his intensity, how important his image was to him, right on down to how his jersey fit. And how quiet he was. He seemed to trust very few people.
His football, basketball and track and field teammates at Valley hardly knew the best athlete in the school. Carruth was that guarded. If not for the urging of his prep coach, Dave Hoskins, Carruth would not have ever spoken to me.
Carruth’s father, Charles Wiggins, approached Hoskins at a Valley football practice one late summer day in 1989. He asked if the coach would help his son, to steer him the right way, to hold him accountable. Hoskins said he would. He never saw the man again.
Hoskins and the academic counselors at Valley put Carruth on a path to academic success, but it took a stern meeting and serious commitment to get it rolling. With Carruth’s mother, Theodry, in the Valley offices, Hoskins and counselors laid out a plan to graduate, to become eligible for an athletic scholarship.
Theodry in that meeting challenged her son to answer the academic call, or he could push shopping carts for the rest of his life. Carruth became a student to go with the athlete. Attempts to reach Theodry on Monday were unsuccessful.
Carruth spent summer and fall and winter nights in 1990 and ‘91 retaking classes he had failed as a freshman. He graduated with a 3.2 grade-point average.
“He sat in classes with freshmen and sophomores, and that humbled him,” Hoskins said Sunday. Hoskins is in his 52nd year of regional coaching, the last two seasons as a line coach at Capital Christian High School. “But he did it. He was determined.”
Carruth got his scholarship, at Colorado. There, he was known to read to young children, and for his powerful poems and essays, for his all-conference academic honors, and his breakaway speed.
The last time I spoke to Carruth was weeks before the 1997 draft. He asked Hoskins to work him out on the Valley track before the NFL Combine. Hoskins invited me to come take a peek. He told Carruth, with me standing right there, “Don’t worry, Rae. Just talk to him and tell him your story.”
Carruth wrote a letter to columnist Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer in March, expressing fear that he would always be cast the villain in any story.
Carruth wrote, in part, “In every great piece of literature, there’s always a protagonist and an antagonist. The latter applies to me — and that’s something that will never change.
“There’s absolutely nothing that I could ever say or do to right my wrongs … to no longer be ‘the bad guy.’ ”
Follow The Bee’s Joe Davidson: firstname.lastname@example.org, @SacBee_JoeD, sacbee.com/high-school.