By Alan Zarembo
Photography by Rick Loomis
December 17, 2013
Mark Tyree was chasing death.
The 25-year-old Marine veteran drank heavily and drove fast — often at the same time. Tyree had walked away from two serious accidents that demolished his cars. advertisement
On a foggy November morning in 2011, he slammed his pickup truck into a power pole, became tangled in a power line and was electrocuted.
"He was so reckless at times," said his father, Mark Sr. "He had no fear whatsoever."
Tyree belonged to a generation of young veterans whose return to civilian life has been marked by an unusually high death rate, primarily boosted by accidents and suicides.
The death rate for California veterans under 35 surpasses that of both active-duty service members and other civilians of the same ages, according to a Times analysis of state mortality records.
Scattered across the state, the veterans' deaths — 1,253 men and 110 women between 2006 and 2011 — are barely noticed in the mayhem of modern life.
A 27-year-old in San Diego crashes his motorcycle at 100 mph while drunk. A 32-year-old hooked on heroin overdoses in a restaurant bathroom in Tarzana. A 28-year-old in Humboldt County shoots himself in the head in front of his best friend.
When viewed together, however, patterns emerge.
Veterans were more than twice as likely as other civilians to commit suicide. They were twice as likely to be a victim of a fatal motor vehicle crash and a quarter more likely to suffer other deadly accidents.
In 1987, a government study found that veterans who had served in Vietnam were 62% more likely to die during their first five years as civilians than other veterans of the same era who did not serve there. Motor vehicle accidents, suicides and drug overdoses were the major reasons for the disparity.
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