It had been one of those celery-crisp November nights. A good night to stay at work a little later than usual, pick up a few beers, go for a drive. Kevin Ackland was 20 then and his friend Gordon Baines, 19.
The date was Nov. 5, 1979, and the two had been friends for nearly two years, meeting first through a lost skateboard and then going on to train as locksmiths together. So, it was not that unusual for the two to slip into Baines' 1966 Mustang that evening to take a spin around Annandale.
Two hours after calling it quits at work, Baines' car was reported to have been in a hit-and-run accident. An amateur CB radio operator, following the Mustang, thought he saw Baines' side-swipe a car as he turned off Braddock Road onto Rte. 236.
A private security guard, travelling in an old Ford Torino and wearing a navy blue uniform, picked up the broadcast over his police scanner and followed the car for a few blocks before it turned into a driveway. The guard shone his searchlight into the car. What happened next is unclear, but a few minutes later shots were heard.
The accident report turned out to be false -- there was no collision -- and Baines would recover from the two shots that grazed his skull and pierced his collar bone. Ackland would not be so lucky. He would be paralyzed from the neck down, confined to a wheelchair.
After investigating the incident, a Fairfax County prosecutor concluded that no charges should be filed against Robert Jenkins, the security guard. And last week a Fairfax County Circuit Court jury, after deliberating more than a day and a half, reported that they had reached an impasse in a civil suit brought by Ackland asking for $3.5 million in damages. Judge Lewis H. Griffith declared a mistrial.
Yet, for those involved in the incident, the case is far from closed. Ackland's lawyer said he plans to retry the case, so the events of that November night are likly to be replayed once again in a court of law. Both Jenkins and Ackland are left to ponder how a few minutes could change their lives.
Since the shooting nearly two years ago, Ackland has been an "incomplete quadraplegic" -- below his neck he has some movement in his toes and in his left upper arm and hand, but nowhere else. He can clutch a cigarette between the knuckles on his middle and index fingers, but must watch the burning butt -- his hand is scarred from the times that the ash has blistered his skin. He lacks control of many bodily functions.
According to his lawyer, Jenkins, a 37-year-old father of four, has suffered nightmares of the incident and has been harassed by teen-agers in Annandale. During the last days of the trial, as he sat with his wife Debbie by his side, he frequently looked distraught.
"There is no winning in this case," said Kenneth Curtis, Jenkins's lawyer, as he stood in the courthouse lobby before the mistrial was declared. "It's a tragedy for everyone involved and no matter what the judgment, Jenkins can still get up and walk to work; Kevin cannot."
Nothing of Ackland's medical condition was disputed at the three-day trial. Instead, at issue for the seven-member jury to decide were three questions: whether Jenkins acted in self-defense; whether Ackland's actions may have partially provoked the shooting; and whether, therefore, Ackland should be held responsible for his injuries.
Most of the facts concerning what happened in the apartment parking lot were disputed in courtroom testimony.
In the end, the jury simply was unable to decide whether Ackland contributed to the fighting.
Baines testified that the two youths initially had been followed by a stranger in an old convertible who talked into a CB radio. Baines said they lost sight of the man after Ackland approached the man's car on foot at a stop light.
Then, according to Baines' testimony, the youths noticed another car following them, this one an old Ford Torino, also driven by a man they did not recognize.
Finally, Baines testified, both cars stopped in the apartment house parking lot and he got out of the car to see who was following them and why. According to Baines' testimony, the stranger then began to get out of his own car and Baines slammed the door on the man's leg, and grabbed him.
Baines said he then grappled with the man but did not hit him. The two fell to the ground and at some point in the scuffle, Baines said in court, he was shot. It was only then, he said, that he began hitting the stranger.
In his own testimony, Ackland said he was never involved in any of the fighting. He said he left the car and went toward Baines and the stranger only to pull them apart.
Jenkins, in his testimony, disagreed with the portrayal of the sequence of events. Jenkins said that after he followed the Mustang into the parking lot, Baines and Ackland jumped him and began to beat him. He said he was terrified and that he fired his gun only after both had begun to beat him. The shots, he said, were to summon help.
Jenkins refused to discuss the case in any more detail for this story. Ackland, however, was frank in describing its impact on his life.
"I thought a lot about suicide when it first happened and I still do, but not as much," Ackland, now 22, said in a smoky anteroom outside the courtroom. "I thought that if I died, it would be tough for my family but that eventually they would get over it. They would get back to normal. But now, with me like this, I'm a burden forever.
"The psychologist at Woodrow Wilson (a rehabilitive center near Staunton, Va., where Akland spent most of the year) said I was being selfish, that I was only thinking about me. But that's not true. I would only do it for them. I don't want them to always have to worry about me."
It was about 10 p.m. when the policeman knocked at the door. He asked Betty Ackland if she had a son named Laurance Kevin Ackland. When she said yes, he handed her a piece of paper with a phone number for Fairfax County Hospital and left.
Betty Ackland and her husband Larry, a program specialist with the Agriculture Department, called the hospital.
"We were stunned. We just didn't know what to say. You can't believe that something like this can happen to you, to your children."
The rest of the evening the Acklands waited while tests were performed to see whether the bullet had knicked a major artery. They were warned by the doctors that if it had, Kevin would probably die.
Later, they were told about the paralysis.
"After two years, we've all adjusted, I guess, whether we planned to or not. Kevin didn't die and we still have him here," said Betty Ackland shortly after the jury began its deliberations. Then her voice began to trail off as she looked away, tears brimming. "He didn't die. We still have Kevin here. But in some ways he's not Kevin."
Since Ackland returned from the rehabilitation center last May, his family has been largely responsible for his care. He can brush his teeth, feed himself with help and put on his shirt with the aid of a special button tool. But he must be washed, shaved and helped with his bodily functions. The result, says Ackland, is a feeling of embarassment and frustration.
"I don't accept it. I've pretty much learned to live with, but I don't think I will ever be able to accept it. I'm angry, I'm frustrated; I feel inadequate, inferior, mad and sad."
His relationships with his friends have changed, too. Baines remains his closest friend, but for the most part, he says, his other friends feel awkward and he feels awkward. He eventually ended a relationship with his then girlfriend when, he says, he became convinced she could not accept the permanence of his injuries. She kept saying that he would get better, that it really wasn't all that bad. The spasms that shook his body, she said, were something he was doing on purpose.
Another time, when he came home for his first weekend visit, his parents threw a surprise party for him. About 40 of his friends had gathered in the downstairs family room, but Ackland said he felt uncomfortable and quickly retreated to his nearby bedroom.
"I just had to get away. I felt so out of place. They were overcompensating for the way I had become.
"Before this happened, I couldn't even remember knowing someone in a wheel chair. Wheelchairs were for people who were old, who had broken bones, who had diseases. Maybe, I've blocked it out of mind but I can't remember having seen someone in a wheelchair.
"Then all of a sudden there was me. Me, in a wheelchair. I couldn't handle it and needed to be alone."
He dreams a dream within a dream. He is lying on a hospital bed, eyes closed and the dream within another begins. His toes tingle, then his fingers. He moves his legs, gets out of bed. Look, he says,I can walk. Then he wakes.
"I wake up those times and never know whether it's true. It never is."