Sex scandal in small Az town adds twist to murder-suicide tragedyby Dennis Wagner on Jan. 31, 2008, under Local, Special
THATCHER – Tim Parmeter’s estranged wife killed herself 13 months ago and took the life of their 2-year-old son, leaving behind a spite-filled letter and broken hearts.
Parmeter, former basketball coach at Eastern Arizona College, was “absolutely, completely” to blame, his wife wrote. A CBSSports .com story last month on the tragedy presented Parmeter, 37, as the victim of a deranged wife.
Support letters and e-mails poured in from around the nation. A memorial scholarship was created in the name of the slain child.
But amid the sympathy and acclaim came a stunning accusation. A woman stepped forward to claim that she and Parmeter had been involved for nearly two years, beginning when she was 16.
Now, Parmeter faces allegations of sexual relations with a teenage girl. He is under criminal investigation involving sexual misconduct. He has been fired from his job.
And he is at the vortex of a swirling scandal in this close-knit community.
Among the more wrenching claims: On Dec. 29, 2006, the night before Paula Parmeter, 37, and son Ryan were found dead of carbon-monoxide poisoning, Tim Parmeter was with his teenage paramour.
Sex contact denied
The girl, a high-school basketball player, said Parmeter was upset that night about his pending divorcebut nevertheless became amorous with her in his office bathroom. When confronted by detectives, Parmeter denied sexual contact with the girl and accused her of stalking him.
The accuser, who at one point helped out at the coach’s summer-basketball camp, gave detectives e-mails ostensibly sent to her by Parmeter. A friend corroborated her story, according to the investigative record.
Parmeter was terminated as head coach and escorted off campus by Thatcher Police Chief Mike Stevens.
A banner headline in the Eastern Arizona Courier, “Coach accused of sexual misconduct with minor,” fueled the Graham County rumor mill.
Little being said
Parmeter did not respond to interview requests. Detectives would say little about the case. College officials declined to comment on why he was fired.
According to a campus-police report, the girl told investigators she began exchanging e-mails and phone calls with Parmeter soon after meeting him through a friend.
The girl, now 18 and attending the college, said their first kiss was in June 2005, during a visit at his office at the school’s Guitteau Gymnasium.
Over the next two years, the girl told police, she and Parmeter had intimate relations several times a week at his office and about a dozen times at his home.
Investigators recorded a phone conversation between Parmeter and his accuser and then a meeting between the two at the coach’s office.
According to the police report, the girl asked if he was seeing anyone else during their relationship: “Parmeter told her that there was no one and pointed at her and mouthed words to the effect, ‘Only you.’ She could hear the whisper as he said it.”
Police interviewed Parmeter on Jan. 17. He told investigators the girl was obsessed with him. When officers described e-mail evidence, the report says, Parmeter claimed the girl had gained access to his computer and written the messages to frame him.
Investigators then discussed specific sexual encounters described by the girl. “Parmeter’s face turned red,” according to the report. “He did not admit that he had had sex (with the accuser).”
Parmeter told CBS he met his wife at a Valley sports bar. It was Trivia Night, and the two were bonded by a devotion to the Chicago Cubs.
Tim was head basketball coach at Scottsdale Community College, establishing a five-year winning tradition.
Paula, an Arizona State University graduate, was an expert at developing management systems for major companies.
In a memorial note posted on the Internet, a friend wrote that Paula “performed her job as she lived her life, with incredible integrity, commitment, passion and strength.”
After the marriage in 2000, Tim took the job at Eastern Arizona College in the shadow of Mount Graham. Ryan Wrigley Parmeter – his middle name drawn from Wrigley Field, the Cubs’ ballpark – was born in August 2004.
Two years later, the marriage unraveled.
Tim Parmeter filed for divorce on Nov. 6, 2006. Graham County Superior Court records show the couple disputed the custody of Ryan, along with matters as trivial as who would get the couch.
According to police reports, Paula suspected an affair but not with a teenager. Rather, she thought her husband was involved with a former employee at the college.
On Dec. 21, 2006, the reports say, Paula had a chance meeting with that woman in the local Wal-Mart and launched into a cursing tirade in front of children. The woman, who denied a romantic relationship with Tim, sought a court protective order.
One day later, Paula’s sister in Wisconsin called Thatcher police seeking a welfare check because of a possible overdose. Officers found Paula safe but disconsolate.
Tim had moved out of the house by then. He told police that Dec. 29, 2006, was marked by an angry phone conversation with his wife. The next morning, he went to check on her and Ryan. The police report says Tim Parmeter was speaking with the former college employee on his cellphone when he entered the garage, which was filled with exhaust fumes. “They’re dead!” he cried. “They’re dead! She got my baby!”
Suicide notes sent
Paula and Ryan were in the back seat of a black Volvo. The boy lay on the floor, wrapped in a blue blanket, with stuffed animals and toys beside him.
The garage door was closed, with blankets stuffed into cracks. The car ignition was on, but it had stopped running when the gas tank ran empty.
There was a camera on the seat. The last photograph showed Ryan standing inside the car, still conscious, but his lips apparently had reddened from carbon-monoxide exposure.
Paula Parmeter had written and sent suicide notes to her husband, family members and friends.
A talk with CBS
Police refused to release those letters, but Tim shared the contents of his with CBS.
“This event is absolutely, completely your fault,” Paula wrote. “You found our pain funny. . . . If I have the opportunity to haunt you, I will. . . . I pray that you will see our faces in your mind’s eye and wonder what Ryan could have been and what we could have had if you had only chosen love.”
There was a child’s scribbling at the end, according to the article, and an explanatory note from Paula: “That’s Ryan saying bye-bye, Dada.”
In the CBS story, Tim Parmeter said the letter goaded him to get on with life.
“If I killed myself or quit coaching, then I think I would be letting her win because that’s what she wanted,” he said. “She obviously wanted to hurt me. And she did. But I’m gonna try to keep going.”
This week, after learning of the sexual-misconduct allegations, Paula’s sister, Abby Wilson, issued a statement on behalf of the family: “Nothing that happens or doesn’t happen with Tim could bring Paula and Ryan back. We have all suffered a terrible loss and our family is still grieving.”
Graham County is known for its mines, farms and families.
It’s the kind of place where a gray-haired waitress at Jerry’s Restaurant gruffly greets customers with the question, “Whatcha gonna have, hon?” Where the local prosecutor also happens to be Paula’s divorce lawyer. And where community-college hoops is the biggest game in town each winter.
Last Wednesday, nearly 400 fans were packed into a gym nicknamed the Monster Pit. High up in the stands, freshman center Tim Kiewel prepared to film the game, unable to play because of an ankle injury. Kiewel said his Eastern Arizona teammates are in the dark about coach Parmeter, unsure what to think.
“They didn’t tell us anything at all,” Kiewel said. “I’m hurt more than anything, just surprised.”
Kiewel said Parmeter is the best coach he has ever played for. “Off the floor, he’s really easygoing, a nice guy. On the floor, he’s a fantastic coach.”
The game goes on
The Gila Monsters seemed confused and sluggish during the game’s opening minutes, then went on a scoring rampage led by guard Will Bynum. Eastern Arizona won, 83-74. The band played in celebration. But, even in victory, there was a hollow feeling.
Bynum, recipient of the first Ryan Wrigley Parmeter Memorial Scholarship, exited the locker room. Before a question could be asked, he lowered his eyes, shook his head and said, “I have nothing to say.”