Fatal Perfection

Don Crowder was obsessed with being the best--as a lawyer, family man, and friend. So why did he kill himself?

On June 21, 1998, his drinking finally resulted in a DWI, an arrest that was all the more humiliating because it occurred in Allen, the same town where he had dutifully served as the top prosecutor for more than two decades.

"He told me, when he first got arrested, that he was thinking about ending it all," says Frank Jackson. "One of his concerns was his standing in the community. Because of the DWI, he couldn't be the city attorney in Allen anymore...These were failures he just could not accept."

"Don was seeking something else in his life beyond what he had, beyond law practice, and what he was seeking did not come," says Mattox. "A lot of us never know what we are going to be when we grow up, so to speak, and Don was still searching when he got lost."

On October 25, the day of his 56th birthday, Crowder followed through on his warnings and took an overdose of a prescription medication. Rushed to Columbia Medical, he spent 28 hours in the Intensive Care Unit before he "talked his way right out of that hospital," says Sheri. "I told them I wasn't going to sign any release papers; the man was sick, and he needed help. But they let Don walk right out of there."

On October 29, as if writing his own obituary, a despondent Crowder reflected on the Montgomery trial: "That case was maybe the zenith of an extraordinarily successful career, or the demise of what could have been," he told the McKinney Courier-Gazette. Throughout the trial, he said, he "watched the Gore family. They were simple farm folk, and they didn't understand that I had a job to do. It bothered me a lot. Their faces still haunt me."

For the first time, Crowder's image of a perfect life was cracking. He had gone through his brother's suicide, Gameday's demise, the failure of his first marriage, his body's aging; and in February, he was going to court not as a lawyer but as a defendant. The unfailing, admirable man he had worked so hard to be was fracturing under the weight of his own unflagging expectations.

He did, however, make several desperate attempts at bringing back his old self. On October 6, he filed a petition to divorce Sheri. On October 15, he withdrew it. Five days before he first attempted to take his life, he reinstated the divorce petition. A week after his release from the hospital, he had it dismissed again, but told friends he planned on divorcing Sheri and remarrying Carol.

Crowder became so depressed, Carol says, "He was like a lost soul. For the first time in his life, he was afraid. He felt his life had become a roller-coaster ride he couldn't stop."

November 10 began as a typical day for Don Crowder. He woke up at dawn, as he always did, and exercised. He drove to his Allen office, where he discussed the details of a case with Robert Udashen. He left, got a haircut, and around 2 p.m. took his wife to lunch at Mi Cocina, a local restaurant they often frequented. They had a long, leisurely meal topped off with a couple of drinks, Sheri would later tell the police. Then they were home by 5 p.m., and soon got ready for bed. They always went to bed early. Only this time, when Don tried to make love to his wife, his body failed him. Perhaps this was the one final failure he just couldn't abide. He got out of bed, walked into his workout room, and put a bullet in his head.

Even in death, Don Crowder defied the ordinary, his funeral larger and grander than most. On November 14, a memorial service was held at the Turentine-Jackson-Morrow Funeral Home Chapel in McKinney, and more than 600 mourners attended. During that sunny autumn morning, friends, family, and dozens of the kids he had helped coach into adulthood walked up to the podium and remembered the impact he had on their lives. There was no preacher, but he was eulogized by so many, the service lasted two and a half hours.

True to his wishes, Crowder's body was cremated; his ashes now rest in a copper box on the mantel of Sheri's fireplace. Crowder, 54 at the time of his second marriage, told Sheri he figured he had at least another 10 good years left. "He only gave me two years, and he promised me 10," Sheri says, glancing at the mantel. "I'm going to keep him there for a while; he still owes me another eight years."

Sheri wanted a memorial service that reflected the way Don Crowder really was: The music played was the "moody stuff" he enjoyed, like Al Green and LeAnn Rimes; the photo brought for the occasion was one of his favorites, a flattering profile done years earlier. Most revealing of Don Crowder's life, however, was the sheer number of people who came together to grieve his loss.

"I didn't even know how many people he had helped," says his mother, Tynie. "It made me feel so good to see them all there...they couldn't even get in the place all at once and had to wait outside and in the parking lot."

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