Matt Ecker fought back tears Tuesday, describing for a jury how he watched as his 25-year-old son stood at attention and saluted him before putting a pistol to his head, killing himself in 2009.
''He was bleeding severely. His eyes rolled back and they were still open. I tried to think of what you're supposed to do in that situation. What do you do?'' Ecker said. ''I held his hand and I prayed.''
Ecker's son Michael had come home from the war in Iraq about three years earlier and was in the family's backyard in Champion near a pond. He had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder along with traumatic head injuries suffered in battle. He also was taking pain medication for his back and ankle.
Tribune Chronicle photos / R. Michael Semple
Dr. Frank G. Veres, left, and his son, Dr. Zachary F. Veres, listen to testimony Tuesday afternoon in the wrongful practice case filed against them in the suicide of a local Iraqi war veteran.
The family, including an older son Mark, is holding two doctors responsible to for the suicide, which is playing out in a wrongful death-medical malpractice trial being staged in the courtroom of Judge Ronald Rice.
The Eckers claim Dr. Zachary F. Veres and his father, Dr. Frank G. Veres, who have a family practice in Champion, breached the standard of care in their pain management treatment of the veteran.
''It was just difficult for him to adjust to civilian life after the military,'' Ecker said, fighting back more tears as he recalled picking up his son at the airport Christmas eve of 2006. ''He might have been embarrassed after we hugged right there in the airport.''
Ecker said he noticed the difference in his son on the way home.
''He was looking for roadside bombs on the turnpike,'' Ecker said.
The father also told the story of workers throwing paint cans in a bonfire across the streets, touching off small explosions as the cans overheated.
''Michael thought we were under attack. I had to ask the workers if they could knock it off,'' Ecker said.
Ecker said his son's suicide has turned his family upside down. He said his wife Cheryl is completely withdrawn these days and not interested in what were normal chores. It leaves Ecker to pick food and do the laundry.
The Eckers' attorney, Brian Kopp, still must convince a jury of three men and five women that any mistreatment was at least part of the proximate cause of the veteran's suicide.
Attorney Thomas Prislipsky, who represents the doctors, made it clear in his opening statements that it was an irrational and impulsive act that led to the suicide and nothing can be attributed to care and treatment by the local doctors.
Prislipsky has pointed out how Ecker despised treatment he was getting by doctors at the Veterans Administration and how they failed to channel the veteran into counseling for any mental problems.
Two plaintiffs experts, though, testified Tuesday that after reviewing the case, they believe the doctors' care was a proximate cause of the death.
Dr. Michael Klinkman, a board certified family practice physician, pointed out how after switching from the VA to the local physicians in January of 2009, Ecker's medication dosages of Valium, Percocet and Paxil were increased four times.
Another expert, Dr. Lawson Bernstein, a forensic psychiatrist, insisted ''the risk of suicide increased because he lacked adequate care.''
''He needed proper psychiatric intervention,'' Bernstein said.
Defense experts are expected to testify beginning today in the case.