Bernie jerked his head up and looked around the living room of his comfortable ranch-style home just outside Lone Jack. He had dozed off on the couch waiting for his son to come home before midnight curfew. But now it was 4 a.m.
Bernie stumbled to his feet and told Jean to get dressed. Gruff and beefy, Bernie was used to being the strong, unemotional one in the family. But his hands trembled as he grabbed for his car keys and tried to imagine some harmless explanation for his son's uncharacteristic absence.
Mike Standiford, a dark-eyed sixteen-year-old football player, was kindhearted and close to his family. He frequently visited his older sister at her nearby house. His dog, an old boxer, was usually with him. As far as Bernie knew, Mike wasn't much into partying or drinking, though he enjoyed a jockish popularity with girls. That night, Mike had gone to see Christine, one of his new friends in Lone Jack, where the family had moved from Lee's Summit a year earlier. The two had planned to hang out at her house, shoot some pool and listen to music.
Bernie and Jean rushed into the warm August night. After driving just a few hundred yards south, Bernie spotted emergency vehicles' flashing red lights on the other side of Highway 50, less than half a mile away. And he knew. "I just knew that was my boy," Bernie says grimly.
Arriving at the scene, Bernie saw an ambulance, a Jackson County sheriff's patrol car and a blue-uniformed deputy. He saw a mangled, smoking Camaro rammed into a tree, and his gaze froze on its license plate. It was Mike's.
"Is my son dead?" Bernie managed to choke out the question. The deputy told him yes. Bernie yelled in anguish and fell to his knees while his wife heaved and sobbed and tried to crawl to the ambulance. Bernie's natural impulse was to shield his wife from the gruesome sight, so he put his arms around her and took her home.
The crash seemed an ordinary tragedy on a deadly country road. And that's exactly what Lone Jack's police chief and firefighters expect Bernie and Jean Standiford to believe.
Jackson County Sheriff¹s Deputy David Dinwiddie had been dispatched to the scene, just beyond Lone Jack's city limits, a little after 2:30 a.m. on August 6, 1996. Surveying the wreckage, he determined that the Camaro had been headed north on Lover's Lane when it skidded across the road, slammed into a tree and caught fire. Mike Standiford's badly charred body was in the front seat.
The rural road in the county's extreme southeastern corner was pitch dark, without streetlights, but the straight, dry pavement was familiar to the boy, and the night was clear. Deputy Dinwiddie wrote in his report that the vehicle had made an "improper" lane change, which probably contributed to the crash. Dinwiddie declared the wreck to be a one-car accident. For the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, the investigation was over.
The fire had burned so long that the county medical examiner relied on Mike Standiford's dental records to identify the driver.
During the weeks following the crash, the Standifords cried all day each day, and Jean would wake crying in the night. One morning at 2 o'clock, the older of their two daughters banged at their door, sobbing that she missed her brother. The family buried Mike in Independence at Mount Washington Cemetery with no headstone.