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`SEED OF DEATH' SOWN : LATE RACE DRIVER TIM RICHMOND SUSPECTED OF SPREADING AIDS VIRUS.

Byline: Ken Rodriguez Miami Herald

Beyond the grave of Tim Richmond lies a trail of pretty women, following him into the ground.

Fresh flowers rest beside the tombstone of one former lover. A second ex-girlfriend, fighting for her life, has picked out her casket. At least two former partners are in seclusion on the East Coast, awaiting the inevitable. Others - friends suspect a dozen or more - have passed on quietly, hoping to take this secret with them: Richmond, the late auto-racing star, infected them with the virus that causes AIDS.

Panic seized women across the country when media reports leaked the cause of Richmond's death in August 1989. LaGena Lookabill Greene, Richmond's former fiancee dying of AIDS in Charlotte, N.C., received more than two dozen calls.

``From those calls alone - only counting the ones from Charlotte - I could have started a support group of women exposed to HIV from Tim,'' said Greene, 35. ``There would be about 30 in that support group. They told me they were exposed, that they had had sex with Tim and they were worried.''

Richmond's infectious-disease specialist, Dr. David Dodson, can only guess when his late patient might have become infected. ``Perhaps in the late '70s,'' Dodson said.

The time line is telling. Richmond - who attended a Miami prep school - could have been spreading the virus unchecked for eight years or longer. His sexual partners, friends say, were like stars in the sky - too numerous to count. ``I did receive several calls from women around the country,'' Dodson said. Not everyone exposed has been infected.

The Richmond family says their late son was diagnosed with AIDS in December 1986. Greene says he infected her Sept. 10 of that year in a New York hotel. She believes that Richmond knew he had the virus when they made love after his marriage proposal.

``I grieved his death,'' she said, ``even though he knowingly planted his seed of death inside me.''

Richmond's death evoked sympathy, tears. The girlfriends dying in his wake, silence. That is the cruel, sexist irony of sport - tributes for stricken men, isolation for their victims.

Magic Johnson acknowledged he was HIV positive in 1991, then appeared on Arsenio Hall's show and assured everyone he had been infected by a woman. The studio audience cheered.

Heavyweight boxer Tommy Morrison acknowledged he was HIV positive last month, then said he was afraid his infection might put a strain on his relationship with fiancee Dawn Freeman. The boxing community wept.

After Richmond died, The Charlotte Observer ran this headline: `He's In Victory Lane Forever.' One Charlotte television reporter lamented, ``He was a blazing star who burned out before his time.''

LaGena Lookabill Greene read the stories, watched the news, listened to every report that mourned Richmond's passing. ``I would sit in front of the TV and cry - not because people were grieving for Tim, but because no one was grieving for me and I was dying in silence,'' Greene said. ``I'd see knives in the kitchen and want to stick one right in my heart.''

She wants a memorial service. Everyone wearing white. A ballet. Lots of music. A celebration of her life.

``There is going to be singing,'' she said. ``That doesn't mean there won't be sadness. Everybody knows the tragedy.''

Life is leaking from Greene, a former North Carolina Junior Miss. Her T-cell count, which measures the strength of her immune system, has plummeted from a near-normal 965 to 14.

She has picked out a white casket. A mausoleum awaits.

``She has outlived any predictions I would have made about her surviving,'' said Dr. Joseph Jemsek, the infectious-disease specialist treating Greene. ``But we may lose her this year if our new drugs don't work.''

The journey has been wrenching. Three bouts of pneumocystis pneumonia. Acute pancreatitis. Diabetes. Dizziness. Migraines. Vomiting. Uncontrollable diarrhea. Two bouts of cervical cancer.

Her face - that beautiful face that once graced the pages of Glamour, Seventeen and Cosmopolitan magazines - is withering. Doctors say Greene suffers from temporal wasting. Her skull is caving in.

``What I see when I look at myself in the mirror is a stick of chewing gum - flat on both sides,'' said Greene, a former model who is 5 feet 2 and weighs 94 pounds, down from 110. ``I used to be voluptuous because I worked out at the gym twice a day.''

Tim Richmond met LaGena Lookabill Greene in 1980 and pursued her for six years, proposing three times. Theirs was an odd and unlikely relationship: Southern belle, cum laude graduate meets swashbuckling, woman-chasing daredevil.

``First time I saw them together,'' a longtime family friend said, ``I knew she was in trouble.''

Trouble? Greene had lived a storybook life. Junior Olympic gymnast. Honors high school graduate. Miss Hawaiian Tropic USA. Double major in college - psychology and dramatic art. Guest-starring roles in such TV series as ``St. Elsewhere'' and ``Remington Steele.''

Until Richmond came along, Greene had had only one boyfriend, a steady she dated from age 12 through her junior year at North Carolina.

Later, in 1985, LaGena met an actor, Danny Greene, while filming a movie. Shortly thereafter, Danny became a star on the TV series ``Falcon Crest.'' Tall, handsome and athletic, Danny starred in several motion pictures after playing football at South Miami University and Florida State. LaGena dated Danny for a while, broke up, then returned to Charlotte. Once home, she resumed her relationship with Richmond, a former football star himself at now-closed Miami Military Academy.

Tim's father, Al, does not believe that his late son infected LaGena Greene. ``I don't think there is anything to it,'' said Al, who lost his wife, Evelyn, to cancer after Tim's death. ``I don't remember her.''

LaGena says she and Al spoke on the phone many times. ``LaGena,'' she recalled Al telling her, ``Tim says you're the keeper. The first time he said that, I asked what he meant. He said, `You're the one Tim wants to marry.' ''

Jackie Lookabill, Greene's mother, also remembers Al Richmond. ``On Sept. 10, 1986, I brought my daughter to Charlotte Municipal Airport,'' Jackie said. ``And Evelyn and Al Richmond brought Tim. We chatted inside the lobby. Tim and LaGena were on the way to Maryland for Tim to have a press conference with USA Today.''

After the news conference, Richmond asked Greene to fly with him to New York for dinner, hinting he wanted to discuss something special.

Richmond rented a hotel suite, saying he wanted to freshen up. Moments after they arrived, a bellman delivered pink roses. Outside the window, Central Park in resplendent autumn colors. Inside the room, a man promising to be a devoted husband and father.

Richmond proposed, LaGena accepted. They consummated their relationship.

``I believed that by giving myself to Tim physically, our union marked the beginning of a lifetime of mutual commitment,'' she said. ``We never made love again. Now I see that day as the end of my life as I had known it.

``He had mentioned purchasing a $33,000 heart-shaped ring for me, but it was his words that melted my heart. To me, the ring was inconsequential. It was his love.''

The odds of a woman contracting HIV from a single sexual encounter with an infected man are limited. But the chances increase when the man is in the late stages of the disease.

Richmond, by his own doctor's estimate, might have been carrying the virus for eight years when he had sex with LaGena. Jemsek, her infectious-disease specialist, says he believes his patient's account.

``Because of the timing of her sexual encounter and the subsequent development of medical problems, it all makes perfect sense,'' Jemsek said. ``It is a very believable scenario.''

A former friend of Richmond, who did not want to be identified, confirms that LaGena was with Richmond that day in the hotel suite. The woman told The Miami Herald she called Richmond's room and LaGena answered.

After leaving New York, LaGena and Richmond remained in touch by telephone. ``Tim wanted to spend Thanksgiving with me in Los Angeles,'' she said. ``We made plans, he didn't show up, and he didn't call for the next two years and four months.''

A sports agent called LaGena, wanting to know about whispers that Richmond had AIDS. A vicious rumor, she said. No way it could be true.

``After hanging up with the sports agent, my mind began to swirl with memories of Tim's proposal,'' she said. ``I pictured Tim's face and his eyes, which were filled with tears saying, `Why now? Why are you saying yes, now? Why not earlier?' I became concerned that I needed to get tested, even though AIDS was known as a gay man's disease. The test came back negative. But I had only been exposed 11 weeks earlier. What doctors know now that they didn't know then is there can be a window of three to six months in which a person can be infected with HIV and test negative.''

Nine months after the test, a sportswriter called. He said Richmond was in the hospital and wondered if LaGena could confirm that Richmond had AIDS.

``I only said what a great race driver he was and I could not confirm any rumor,'' she said. ``But I went and got tested again. This time, I was positive.''

LaGena told Danny the news. One day they went to Santa Monica and ran on the beach. LaGena collapsed face down in the sand, got up, ran some more, fell again. They embraced, waves crashing around them, and wept. Looking at the ocean, they screamed, ``Why, God? Why are you doing this?''

LaGena suffered privately for eight years until Jemsek, her doctor, persuaded her to speak at a Charlotte AIDS seminar. After she went public, a neighbor knocked on her door at 5 a.m., handed her a single flower, began to weep and walked away.

Most women fear a different reaction. A rock through the bedroom window. Fire set to the house. Public ridicule. LaGena was afraid of all those things. Perhaps so are many of Richmond's former lovers, the ones still alive.

One told The Miami Herald she had slept with Richmond and had been tested. She did not disclose the results. Another, seriously ill in Pennsylvania, didn't return calls.

Questions linger about a third woman, Karen Beasley, a former Miss Winston (N.C.). Beasley's family says she died of leukemia in 1992 and knew Richmond but never dated him. Friends of Richmond insist a romantic relationship existed.

The only other woman to publicly say an American sports hero infected her is Waymer Moore. She sued Magic Johnson for $2.2 million, claiming he had infected her with HIV in 1990. The case has been settled out of court.

If Tim Richmond were alive today, LaGena would not sue, although she claims to have documentation proving intentional exposure. After a failed suicide attempt, Danny took her to church. At the altar, she repented for the sin of premarital sex and rededicated her life to Christ.

Two years later, Danny proposed, knowing he and LaGena would never have children. They were married on Valentine's Day, 1990.

LaGena wanted an apology from Richmond after learning she had been infected. In March of 1989, Richmond began calling. ``But it wasn't to apologize and it wasn't to admit he had AIDS,'' she said. ``He denied for the next four months that he had AIDS.''

The Richmond family also denied the illness.

``Then, in what turned out to be our last conversation, I realized that Tim lacked the capacity to be truthful,'' LaGena said. ``So, I told him, `I know you gave me this disease and that you knew that you had AIDS when you asked me to marry you. But I forgive you.' He thanked me.''

A few days later, he died in West Palm Beach at age 34.

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

PHOTO (1-2--color) Race-car driver Tim Richmond, right,died of AIDS, and he apparently spread HIV to many women, including his former fiancee, LaGena Lookabill Greene, above. She is dying of AIDS in Charlotte, N.C.

Charlotte Observer
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 31, 1996
Words:2020
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