Wednesday, March 15, 2006 | 7:05 a.m.
Most people visit Las Vegas to gamble or take in a show, but Fred Tallchief came here because his daughter returned to life.
Tallchief is the father of the now-notorious Heather Tallchief, who is waiting in the Clark County Detention Center to be sentenced for her part in a bold robbery a dozen years ago that captured headlines.
Fred Tallchief was sure she was dead, figuring her boyfriend and alleged accomplice, Roberto Solis, killed her and made off with the $3 million they stole from a Loomis armored car.
"I was sure of it," Tallchief said. "My whole life just sort of caved in."
But last fall she resurfaced, traveling from her home in Amsterdam to turn herself in to federal officials in Las Vegas in September.
And so her father visits Las Vegas, trying to piece together what happened and patch up a torn relationship.
A laborer in Buffalo, N.Y., who battled drug and alcohol abuse while his daughter was a child, Fred Tallchief knows it wasn't a good childhood for his daughter. But after speaking with her attorneys, Tallchief said he wanted to sit down with her because he was told she was upset and mad at him because of childhood issues.
"She's ragging on teenage stuff," he said. "(It was) stuff when she was 17 - leaving her alone, letting her have too much freedom. Abandonment. She said I looked after the kids (his other children) more than her. I wasn't even aware that these issues existed."
Heather Tallchief's childhood was marked by "two bad parents," her father said.
"She started out with a bad hand," he said.
He was a heavy drinker and drug user during the first seven years of her life, and there were times when their house was filled with other drug users smoking formaldehyde-soaked marijuana joints.
When Heather was 2, her parents divorced and her mother moved to California.
"I couldn't take care of myself, let alone this child," Fred Tallchief said. "When (the courts) awarded custody of her to me, I thought, 'These guys gotta be outta their freakin' mind.' I had no parental experience. Everything was a mistake. I put my addiction before her."
Heather Tallchief may have picked up a thing or two from him. By the time she was 16 years old she was using cocaine, crack cocaine and alcohol, according to court papers. By the time she was 18, she was addicted to crack.
She and Solis moved to California, and Solis was reportedly abusive.
"She's in California and she called me up, and she said she got beat up by her boyfriend," Tallchief said. "And I'm pissed off as hell, but I can't fly 3,000 miles and beat up the guy."
In federal court papers, Heather Tallchief has claimed that she was brainwashed by the charismatic Solis, who was 27 years her senior. She said Solis convinced her to follow paganism and devil worship, and ultimately Solis convinced her to take a job at Loomis Armored Inc., she wrote in a federal sentencing plea. He then pushed her into the robbery, she wrote.
For her father, that was at first questionable.
"When I first heard it, I thought 'Oh no, not this story again.' It's all bull(expletive) is what I'm thinking. That's Patty Hearst days, and we're done with those alibis," he said. "But I realized she's impressionable. He bull(expletive) her and she fell for it."
So Fred Tallchief has tried to set the relationship right. Last fall he came to Las Vegas after she was arrested. NBC wanted to cover it and drove him to the jail.
"I walk in and they tell me I got the wrong day," he said. Visiting wasn't allowed that day. "I was crushed."
He had been told by his daughter's lawyer that she wouldn't see him. The message then changed. The lawyer told him that she was mad at her father but would talk to him.
"Mad at me?" he recounted telling the lawyer. "You tell her she's grounded. She doesn't know what mad is."
So he came out for her sentencing earlier this month. But he was told just before he was to leave that the hearing would likely be postponed, which it was. But he had already booked a charter package, and it was too late.
So he came back to Las Vegas to try to see his daughter.
Once again, he was denied a visit at the jail, but U.S. District Judge Philip Pro ordered a special visit, telling the U.S. Marshals Service to bring her into court for a 30-minute session.
"I could never thank him enough," Fred Tallchief said. "It was wonderful."
It was the first time he spoke to her in more than a decade.
Some long-standing issues were ironed out. It was personal, nothing about where the money or Solis went. It was father and daughter.
"Am I mad at her putting me, putting us, through this situation?" he asked rhetorically. "She's alive! You don't understand. I can't ask for anything else."