Contestant Leaves Truck Contest, Kills Himself

9-15-05 - A participant in an East Texas contest popularized in a 1998 documentary film left the event early Thursday, broke into a nearby store, retrieved a shotgun and killed himself, police said.

Richard Vega, 24, of Tyler left the "Hands on a Hardbody" contest at Patterson Nissan around 6 a.m., about the time that a break was called, said police Sgt. Carlos Samples. The rules of the contest require participants to lay one hand flat on a truck at all times. The contestant who holds out longest drives the truck home.

Vega crossed the street to a Kmart, broke the glass in the front door, climbed through, then went to the sporting goods department and took a 12-gauge shotgun, police said. Officers called to the scene were coming in the front of the store as Vega approached from the back.

"He took a few steps back and actually fired the gun at himself and killed himself," Samples said.

The officer said police don't know why Vega committed suicide. Samples said he was unaware of any prior dispute or altercation at the contest, which did not immediately continue Thursday.

Filmmaker S. R. Bindler shot a documentary of the competition in 1995. "Hands on a Hardbody," the movie, traces the humor and heartbreak of the days-long event.