Original article no longer available
The Salt Lake Tribune
By Nate Carlisle And Erin Alberty
Updated: 12/24/2008 06:11:22 AM MST
As a Utah state trooper, Brian G. Smith won the praise of his colleagues and inspired a neighbor child to write a school essay describing him as a hero.
Even close friends say they were oblivious to the alcohol and prescription drug abuse that ended Smith’s career in law enforcement this year.
Now that Smith is suspected in a fatal shooting spree Monday on a north Texas freeway after robbing a pharmacy, those close to him say they are utterly mystified.
“The Brian Smith that everyone around here knows wouldn’t do any of these things,” said Smith’s former LDS bishop, Michael Peterson. “Obviously, he was having a struggle with something.”
After the freeway shootings, Smith, 37, got into a standoff with police that ended Monday night when he apparently shot himself in the head, Texas police reported.
Smith’s father-in-law, Karl Koerner, on Tuesday night said Smith had been removed from life support.
“He was pretty much an ideal husband and father for many years, and then he started having depression,” Koerner said. “And I just think it wasn’t treated very effectively. Part of it was his fault not seeking the treatment he needed.”
At a news conference, Dallas police said they think Smith was responsible for at least one death in the freeway shootings.
On Monday, Texas police said, Smith robbed a Dallas-area pharmacy. Minutes later, the first freeway shooting occurred. A second person also died in another freeway shooting, but Dallas police declined to comment on that case. A third person was injured in the shootings.
Police said the victims appeared to have been selected at random.
Smith is married with five children, ages 8 months to 9 years, Koerner said.
He joined the Utah Highway Patrol in 1996 and worked mostly in Salt Lake County, advancing to sergeant.
“He was just a great guy,” said UHP Sgt. Jeff Nigbur. Smith was “motivated. A great friend of mine.”
His former neighbors in Herriman say he would flash the lights on his patrol car to delight the neighborhood children.
“My son … had to write something [for school] on a hero,” said neighbor Cindi Schut. “He wrote about Brian.”
Peterson said UHP assigned Smith to security details for former Govs. Michael Leavitt and Olene Walker. Leavitt gave Smith a mahogany box as a gift, Schut said; Smith then gave it to Schut’s son.
“He treasures that box,” she said.
Koerner, of Draper, said Smith’s problems may trace to an accident he suffered while on duty.
Smith was in his patrol car, writing a ticket, Koerner said. Then another car struck Smith’s. The wreck left Smith with back problems and forced him to take pain medication, Koerner said. He was unsure when the accident occurred but said it was about the same time his family noticed changes in Smith.
“Until a couple years ago, when his personality started to change, you couldn’t find a better guy,” Koerner said.
Koerner said Smith sought some depression treatment at his wife’s urging.
On Jan. 10, according to the documents provided Tuesday by UHP, Smith bought two pints of liquor in Draper and drove his patrol car to a movie theater in Lehi. He drank one of the pints.
Then Smith drove to a park in Herriman and drank from the second pint before driving home. Smith kept drinking while sitting in his car, the documents say.
Smith called his LDS bishop and asked him to come over. The bishop arrived and sat in Smith’s car as Smith talked about suicide, the documents say. Smith held his handgun to his chin.
When Smith placed the gun on the dashboard, the bishop took it and called 911, the document says.
UHP began an internal affairs investigation, during which Smith admitted to the drinking and driving and to stealing prescription drugs from a relative who was a dentist. Smith claimed his drinking and drug use began after an on-duty traffic accident.
Smith resigned from UHP and agreed to surrender his certification as a peace officer.
Until then, Smith was heavily involved in the community, coaching youth basketball and soccer and helping lead Boy Scouts, friends said.
Once, when Schut’s husband Ryan was sick, he looked outside and saw Smith shoveling the Schuts’ driveway.
“He was a great neighbor,” said Ryan Schut, who was Smith’s home teaching companion through church. “People loved him. They really loved him. He was very outgoing.”
After his resignation, Smith and his family moved to the Dallas area. Koerner said Smith took a sales job with IBM. Koerner said Smith may have had problems with his new job.
“It was really hard to earn commissions and bonuses because of the economy,” Koerner said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.