Body found in submerged SUV (video)
By BY GHENI PLATENBURG - GPLATENBURG@VICAD.COM
May 21, 2012 at 12:21 a.m.
Updated May 22, 2012 at 12:22 a.m.
The sounds of screams and sobs could be heard from outside The Family Table Restaurant late Monday afternoon as Victoria police officers delivered the heart-wrenching news to relatives that Shawn Lee Landers had died.
Less than an hour before, police and members of the Victoria Fire Department pulled a gold Nissan Pathfinder from the Guadalupe River near the bridge on Southwest Moody Street.
They found Landers' body inside.
"I wish it never happened," said family friend Tiny Salone, who stood outside the restaurant. "I feel bad for the family. It's a loss for them."
The police received several calls earlier that afternoon of a vehicle that had been spotted in the river, said Victoria Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Eline Moya.
After the vehicle was removed, Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 Stuart Posey pronounced Landers, 31, dead at 3:42 p.m.
It was not known as of Monday evening if an autopsy had been ordered on the victim.
While the incident is still under investigation, Moya said the victim's sport utility vehicle appeared to have been traveling north on Southwest Moody Street when it crossed over the southbound lanes, struck a utility pole at the restaurant, and traveled through a pasture and two barbed wire fences before going into the river.
The SUV was almost completely submerged underwater except for the roof top, said Moya.
Friends said the victim was most likely heading home from work when the incident happened.
Landers, who normally worked at the Dollar General on John Stockbauer Drive as a lead sales associate, had offered to fill in at the company's Aloe Field store location because they were short-staffed.
"He was very upbeat," said Zac Connally, about the last conversation he had with Landers on Sunday afternoon.
Connally, who is a Dollar General store manager and Landers' boss, said his former employee had enjoyed a good weekend with his family.
"He was in real good spirits," said Connally.
The victim likely left the store at about 10:30 p.m. and was not heard from since, with calls to his phone going straight to voicemail, Connally said.
Salone said he and his uncle, who has a child with Landers' sister, were asked by her Monday morning to retrace the victim's route from work to home in hopes they could locate him.
The two searched Landers' travel route three to four times, even going down the dirt path that led to the river, but they did not go down far enough to have seen the SUV in the water.
"It's not your fault," Salone, 29, said repeatedly as he embraced and tried to comfort his crying uncle outside the restaurant.
"I already knew if he hit the pole, hit the gate and went into the river, he was gone," Salone, of Cuero, said about the reports they received later in the day about what might have happened to Landers.
Salone, who had known Landers for about a year, speculated that a seizure could have been to blame for the wreck, as the victim had suffered from them for the last few days.
He described the victim as someone who was quiet, drug-free and loved sports.
Others shared similar sentiments about Landers.
"If he told you he was going to be there at 3 p.m., he was there early," said Connally, who had known Landers for about six months. "He was everything you could ask for in a co-worker or a friend. It's hard to imagine him not being around."
Angela Kidd Peoples, a keyholder at the John Stockbauer Dollar General, described Landers as a nice, pleasant, godly man who never spoke an ugly word. She said she will miss his smile and unique laugh around the store.
"He used to always tell us, no matter how hard a day you're having, smile because you never know if someone has it worse," she said.
On his Facebook page, Landers described himself as being a laid back, random guy who enjoyed sports; fun times with friends; being loud; causing a ruckus every now and then; and, most importantly, someone who was very involved in church and loved Jesus.
According to his page, he graduated from Cuero High School in 1999 and later attended Houston Baptist University, where he studied speech communication and theology.
He also served as a mentor and minister to students in grades six through eight at Faith Family Church.
"Hell is hot and eternity is too long. This South Texas heat makes me glad I am not going there," Landers wrote under his favorite quotations section on Facebook. "I love Jesus!"
With 1,745 Facebook friends, the popular youth minister's statuses showed him as being optimistic about the future.
"Had a blessed time at church now at a car wash," Landers wrote Sunday. "God did move and excited for him to move in me anew! I surrender."
Although he has no children, Landers loved his nieces and nephews like they were his own, Peoples said.
"A very godly man," Peoples said. "If we needed prayer, he gave it to us."
Friends and loved ones will continue to grapple with Landers' death.
"Everybody is kind of in shock. They can't believe he's not coming through the door," Connally said. "We're going to miss him. He was one of those people you always hope to be around. He had a positive outlook. It won't be the same without him there."