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Originally published Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 10:12 AM

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Man who drowned in Lake Washington suffered from schizophrenia

A Des Moines man who died two weeks ago after jumping into Lake Washington near Kirkland was diagnosed last spring with schizophrenia.

Tri-City Herald

A Des Moines man who died two weeks ago after jumping into Lake Washington near Kirkland was diagnosed last spring with schizophrenia.

Larry Stephenson obviously had stopped taking his medication before the Jan. 26 accident, said family members who firmly believe the 27-year-old did not commit suicide.

"I am quite sure that he had a hallucination or a delusion that told him to go into the water, and that's what he did," said his father, also named Larry Stephenson. "It was just a devastating thing for everybody in our family."

His body was found Friday, 11 days after he was last spotted about 100 feet from the lake shore in Kirkland after witnesses reported hearing his cries for help.

Discovery of the body helped bring some closure to his loved ones, who already had a celebration of life planned. It was held Saturday in Kennewick.

Now his father, a well-known Tri-City attorney, wants to get the message out that people need to be more accepting of mental illnesses.

"To me, the real tragedy of people like my son is so many of them — I've had them in my practice — somehow, some way don't believe that they need to take their medication and they invariably end up with future problems. That is definitely what happened here," Stephenson said.

Larry Charles Stephenson — he had a different middle name than his father — graduated from Pasco High School in 1999 and Washington State University in 2003. He also had a fellowship for post-graduate studies at Indiana University.

Larry had a wife, Dolly, whom he married last fall in Las Vegas. They had been together for about 1 ½ years, his father said. The couple had traveled abroad, including to the Philippines and Japan, and lived in Des Moines.

His father said Larry was a bright man who enjoyed skiing, playing tennis, soccer and volleyball and helping students. He held different jobs, including putting together computer programs, but his true passion was blackjack.

With an amazing mind for numbers and analysis, he made a decent living as a gambler, his father said.

"My son was a very unique person in so many ways," Stephenson said. "I was always very proud of my son, even though he was different and it took a while to get to know him."

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But last April, Larry started "developing some kind of signs that he just wasn't right," said his father, and that led to his placement in a Tacoma mental hospital for several weeks.

"That was probably the scariest thing I've ever seen, was seeing my son ... in [a state of] catatonic schizophrenia," Stephenson said. "He was frozen like a statue, and it just knocked me to my knees."

Stephenson said he spent a great deal of time researching the mental disorder, and learned that his son's future was dependent on his following a regimen of medicines.

"If he would do that, he could have a decent life," Stephenson said. "However he, like so many in that situation, he was so bright that he thought he had it figured out. He believed it was lack of rest or staying up late or working late that would trigger that."

Stephenson said he encouraged his son to talk about his auditory hallucinations and delusions to help Larry "realize that this is something he can't mess with."

Stephenson said since his son's diagnosis the two had been in regular contact. Larry had his ups and downs and was in "pretty good spirits most of the time," but clearly had backed off his prescriptions, his father said.

"It always scared me because I believed that something was going to happen," Stephenson said. "I didn't dream of him being dead. I thought he'd be found wandering around or just messed up someplace."

Larry liked Kirkland with its small shops, beach area and the docks. For some reason, he drove there late Jan. 26 and went into Lake Washington.

When officers responded just after 8 p.m., they found Stephenson's belongings laid out in an orderly fashion on a dock.

An autopsy was performed Monday at the King County Medical Examiner's Office in Seattle but the office would not release details until the investigation is wrapped up by Kirkland police.

"We probably have the cause of death, but we need to know the manner," which will be determined by police detectives, said James Sosik Jr., an investigator in the medical examiner's office.

Stephenson said burial will be held in the Tri-Cities once the office releases his son's body.

"I miss him dearly. It's very hard," he said.

Stephenson said all memorial donations are being given to Lourdes Foundation to help others dealing with mental illnesses.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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