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School Superintendent Rick Smith asks for a buyout of his contract as he speaks at the Hamilon County School Board on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Sitting next to him are school board members George Ricks, Sr., left, and Dr. Jonathan Welch.

Now that the Hamilton County Board of Education has decided to pursue a buyout of Superintendent Rick Smith's contract in the wake of the Ooltewah High School rape case, a question begs asking:

If the employee highest up the food chain can't survive this scandal, how can any of the adults below him in this sordid mess hope to remain employed?

Aren't OHS athletic director Jesse Nayadley, recently reassigned Owls basketball coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery and assistant Karl Williams little more than dead men walking regarding their employment future now that Smith has volunteered to walk away if paid a total settlement in the neighborhood of $450,000?

After all, this rape of a Owls freshman by three older teammates is no longer a colossal embarrassment on a local level only. ESPN's cameras and reporters were in town Thursday to report on the fallout from what apparently took place inside that Gatlinburg, Tenn., cabin on the night of Dec. 22, when something apparently went horribly wrong, despite the presence of Ooltewah coaches in that cabin, though they weren't on the floor of the cabin where the rape is alleged to have taken place.

But not only was ESPN here, it was able to obtain previously sealed documents from Sevier County that claim the older players attempted to ram a pool cue into the bottoms of four freshman players through their clothes, though only one of them suffered internal injuries requiring surgery because the pool cue ripped through his pants and broke off in his rectum.

Even worse, these documents revealed that the player most violated was covered in blood, urine and feces when found screaming for help by the Owls coaches.

If it's true that the freshman who required surgery was singled out for rougher treatment because he previously had told the coaches that the freshmen were being hazed, the fact that all these players were unsupervised should render null and void any argument by the adults that they did all they could.

If those four freshmen were left alone with their older teammates after the coaches were made aware they felt threatened, it's doubtful that even the ghosts of the late, great legal eagles Clarence Darrow and Johnnie Cochran could save these adults.

In fact, regardless of what they did from the moment they heard the freshman's screams, the answer to the question "What did they know and when did they know it?" regarding the alleged earlier hazing just might be all that stands between Montgomery, Williams and Nayadley and a jail cell.

Obviously, the legal system has to work its course. Perhaps none of those four freshmen said anything in advance of this incident. Perhaps the upperclassmen committing these crimes had the reputations of choir boys and Boy Scouts prior to this one awful night. Perhaps if this hadn't taken place in the short shadow of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the reporting of it to and by those in charge might have been completely different.

But today, 31 days after this once-innocent high school freshman basketball player was found screaming in pain on the floor of a rented cabin, his body covered in blood and urine and feces due to the despicable actions of older teammates — young men who were supposed to mentor him and protect him — it's hard to focus on anything but the unfathomably disturbing image of that helpless freshman.

Said Smith as he explained his reason to pursue a buyout: "We have to move forward as a community and a district."

Unfortunately, we can't move forward until we know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about what happened inside that Gatlinburg cabin three nights before Christmas. And no number of buyouts can be allowed to distract us from that goal.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

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