‘Why?’ the big question after suicide — (Brownwood Bulletin)

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Brownwood Bulletin

By Gene Deason,  Brownwood Bulletin

Wednesday June 29, 2005

Steven Esgar had a good family. He was a skilled mechanic for the City of Norman, Okla. He had just gotten back to work after an injury had sidelined him. And he was serving as an officer in his homeowners’ association.

So it doesn’t figure that he would quietly leave his wife of 15 years and drive some 350 miles through the night to Central Texas, where he would end his life after a high-speed chase north of Brownwood.

“It just doesn’t seem real,” his daughter, Brandy Lewis of Moore, Okla., said Monday in a telephone interview. “He was an amazing man. I want people to know he wasn’t crazy. Maybe he just got scared. I don’t know.”

Esgar’s 1998 Honda was spotted by sheriff’s Deputy Scott Bird around 3:45 a.m. June 17 traveling south through the town of May at 15 mph, according to the officer’s report. As Bird followed the car to the edge of the community on U.S. Highway 183, Esgar accelerated to speeds of 80 to 90 mph.

Bird turned on his emergency lights and gave pursuit until Esgar finally pulled over about a mile south of Owens. As Bird walked toward the car door, Esgar shot himself once in the head.

Officers said they could find no warrants for his arrest, could not determine that he had been involved in any crime and knew no reason why Esgar would take his life.

Neither does his family.

“My mother said that the Thursday night before it happened, Dad was happy,” Lewis said. “Things were going well. She turned in for the night, and the next thing she knew the sheriff (in Oklahoma) was knocking on the door to tell her that Dad had killed himself in Texas.”

Why he drove so far from home is also a mystery to the family. They have no relatives in this state.

Esgar was being treated for depression, and his medication had recently been changed.

“I work with Alzheimer’s patients,” Lewis said, “and a change in medication can sometimes make things worse. But I don’t know if that’s what happened.”

Esgar had been unable to work for several months this year after a weapon he was firing malfunctioned, jamming a screw into the artery feeding his middle finger. He worked in the Fleet Maintenance Department for the City of Norman, and his primary duty was installing special equipment on new police cars that customizes factory vehicles for the demands of law enforcement use.

“That was hard on him, not being able to work,” Lewis said. “But he had started back about two or three weeks before this happened.”

That was about the same time Lewis was married. She said her husband, Don, and her father had become close, and among the activities they enjoyed together was shooting sports.

“Dad loved the Fourth of July,” Lewis added. “We all had dinner the Sunday before he died, and we were planning what we were going to do this year. He loved fireworks. He was the type who would go to the stand to get $60 worth of fireworks and then spend $200. He liked it big.”

Lewis lovingly refers to Esgar as “Dad,” even though he was actually her stepfather. But since she never saw her biological father, Esgar was the only Dad she has known.

“He married my mother when I was 7 or 8 years old,” Lewis said. “He raised me as his own. I resisted that for a while, but he just always loved me.”

Esgar is also survived by his son, who lives in Kansas.

His body was cremated in Texas, and after his ashes are returned to Oklahoma, a memorial service will be planned. Lewis said she hopes that will give the family some closure.

Lewis and her mother came to Brownwood last week to pick up Esgar’s personal belongings, but they did not see his body or his car.

“The medical examiner was emphatic that we not see him,” Lewis said. “He used a .45 at close range… The sheriff’s deputy also didn’t want us to see the car.”

She said at first she tried to convince herself that the semiautomatic pistol went off by accident, but she doesn’t believe that could have happened.

“I know the weapon,” she said, and it takes a lot of pressure to pull the trigger.

While Lewis appreciates the concern shown them, she said not seeing her Dad left the family struggling to accept the fact that he is indeed gone.

She also said she imagines that it was a difficult sight for Deputy Bird to witness.

“I feel sorry for the deputy,” Lewis said. “He didn’t know what he was walking into.”

Lewis said her father was well read, and especially enjoyed science-fiction.

“He was very intelligent,” Lewis said. “He liked to read encyclopedias as a child. He was a mechanic, a skilled carpenter and worked with leather. He was always helping friends, working on their cars.”

While in Brown County last week, Lewis and her mother placed a small memorial at the site of the traffic stop.

“We put flowers at the county road sign,” she said, expressing the hope that local officials will allow them to remain.

Even though 10 days have passed, family members are still waiting for the reality of Esgar’s death to fully sink in.

“This isn’t something we were expecting,” Lewis said.