While Fort Hood saw 19 suicides in 2012 — nearly double that of 2011 and just three less than the record 22 suicides in 2010 — even more soldiers suffered untimely deaths at the Army post in incidents ranging from motorcycle crashes to shootings to train accidents.
At least a dozen Fort Hood soldiers died in vehicle crashes in 2012; eight were on motorcycles. Motor vehicle crashes, and especially motorcycle crashes, are a long-standing problem throughout the military, and a 2012 Statesman investigation found similarly high numbers of motor vehicle crashes among Texas veterans who died after returning from war and leaving the military.
The motorcycle deaths come despite the extensive training and safety measures that Fort Hood officials require of all soldiers who ride a motorcycle. Officials and safety experts have said that returning service members can struggle with driving outside a war zone, where aggressive habits such as fast driving, avoiding unknown objects on the road and not coming to a stop help keep soldiers alive.
Riders must take up to three training courses, participate in a mentorship coaching program and wear fluorescent vests, helmets and eye protection. And soldiers returning from deployments must take a refresher course before riding again.
Several of the reported deaths were the result of extremely risky behavior on the part of soldiers. Among those killed in 2012 were a soldier who lost control while “doing wheelies” outside a Fort Hood-area restaurant in April and another who died during a February police chase after participating in motorcycle races on a Killeen avenue, according to Fort Hood safety memos.
Three Fort Hood soldiers were killed by gunshots last year. One was killed in October during an argument outside an off-post house party; another by a fellow soldier who told authorities he was trying to cure the victim’s hiccups by scaring him with a gun he thought was loaded with dummy rounds. One soldier was shot and killed by Fort Hood police after they came under fire while approaching his car, which was parked near a lake on the post.
Two soldiers were killed in train-related incidents outside Fort Hood. In the first, a soldier drove past lowered gate guards at a railroad crossing and was struck by an oncoming train. In the second incident, freight train engineers said they saw a body on the tracks in Copperas Cove before running over a soldier. It’s unclear how the soldier ended up on the tracks; police refused to release further information on the incident.
One Fort Hood soldier died from an unintentional drug overdose, according to Fort Hood officials. The 2012 Statesman investigation found overdoses, particularly of prescription drugs, were nearly as prevalent as suicides among Texas veterans receiving disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Several of last year’s untimely Fort Hood deaths remain unexplained. Five soldiers, ranging in age from 24 to 47, were found “unresponsive” in their homes or barracks, according to Fort Hood officials, but their deaths weren’t ruled suicide or overdose by medical examiners. Fort Hood officials didn’t provide their causes of death.