He chose death.
John Whitacre’s decision to kill himself came the night before he was to testify to a secret grand jury investigating his longtime friend and boss, Benjamin Suarez.
Whitacre spent three decades toiling for Suarez Corporation Industries in North Canton, rising up to executive director of marketing operations.
And Whitacre was loyal to the millionaire businessman right up to the end, when he parked his Lexus SUV, grabbed his .357 Magnum and pressed the barrel against his right temple.
He was found Aug. 14, 2012, by his wife, Stephanie, in the garage of his modest Canton home.
A coroner’s investigator spoke to Stephanie Whitacre and took notes of the executive’s mounting torment. Whitacre, 56, had apparently been drinking heavily in the days leading up to his suicide.
“She said he had spoken of ending his life, stating ‘I should just end it,’ ” chief investigator Harry Campbell wrote in his report. “He was also scheduled to appear before a federal grand jury tomorrow.”
Whitacre’s death didn’t stop the grand jury’s investigation of Suarez.
Last month, Suarez was indicted on criminal charges accusing him of skirting federal campaign finance laws by reimbursing 20 top-level executives and their spouses for about $200,000 in donations earmarked to the 2012 campaigns of Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, who was running for the U.S. Senate, and U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, both Republicans.
He also faces charges of obstructing justice, in part by attempting to influence or prevent potential witness testimony by his employees. However, the indictment does not identify Whitacre as one of those employees.
Suarez, 72, denies the accusations.
Whitacre and his wife were among the contributors, records show. Those familiar with the case said Whitacre wanted no part of the grand jury investigation. Meanwhile, his wife of 23 years, Stephanie, was urging him to cooperate, they said.
Suarez this week acknowledged his executive’s emotional disconnect. He said Whitacre had suffered from severe back pain for a long time and had issues with alcohol. But it was the prospect of testifying that pushed Whitacre, Suarez said this week.
Whitacre, he said, would have testified in favor of Suarez’s defense: that the workers gave willingly and were not reimbursed.
“He didn’t want to testify and that seemed to be the tipping point for him,” Suarez said. “It wasn’t anything he’d said. He couldn’t take the pressure of testifying before a grand jury … It was horrible. We were traumatized.”
Stephanie Whitacre talked briefly outside her home last week and later declined comment through her attorney.
Whitacre spent about 35 years working for Suarez Corporation Industries of North Canton. Campaign records show Whitacre and his wife each donated $5,000 to Mandel’s ill-fated Senate campaign.
In all, Suarez, his workers and their spouses gave $100,000 to the Republican candidate, who lost to incumbent Sherrod Brown. They also contributed about $100,000 to Renacci’s campaign for the House of Representatives. He defeated Betty Sutton. Both candidates returned the money last year and are not accused of any wrongdoing.