By Bill Petzold
KINGSTON — Dan Vandecar has met challenges in his life.
But none, he says, were more difficult than the one he faced earlier this month when he testified in court against his own mother.
Vandecar’s mother, Rosemary Vandecar, 56, was convicted May 18 of second degree murder for the February 2010 death of former Caro resident Roy Schutzler in North Las Vegas, Nevada.
Dan Vandecar, 28, was staying with his mother and Schutzler in North Las Vegas at the time of the murder. He was arrested along with his mother by North Las Vegas Police the day after the murder, but evidence gathered by investigators supported his unwavering claim that he had no involvement in the homicide.
Now that Vandecar is back home in Kingston, he wants to shut down the rumor mill and tell his side of the story.
“Everybody around here has been thinking I’m guilty, but I’m not,” Vandecar said. “I just went out (to Las Vegas) and testified. It literally was the hardest thing I ever have had to do in my life. It was harder than deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. It was harder than boot camp.
“It’s been kind of irritating that no one’s come right out and said I was an innocent bystander in the thing. Every story (that has been written about the case) has had me either involved (or an accessory), and it really hurt me. There’s been no newspaper that said I had nothing to do with it.”
Dan Vandecar was an E5 in the United States Marine Corps until he was injured by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His six-year career in the military ended with a medical discharge, and Vandecar said staying with his mother and Schutzler was helping him readjust to civilian life.
Vandecar said that he had four wisdom teeth removed on Friday, Feb. 5, 2010. He spent the weekend recovering and taking pain medication and was sleeping early Monday morning when he was awoken by an alarming sound.
“I woke up at six to a sound like a loud bang,” Vandecar said. “You know during a basketball game when someone hits the floor? It sounded like someone hitting the hardwood, and my mom screaming. I got up and dialed 911.”
Police arrested both Vandecar and his mother the next day.
“I ended up spending 11 days in jail,” he said. “I was never officially charged with anything. Once all the science came back, then I was all-out released.”
Vandecar said he met Schutzler in Sept. 2009 after his mother had moved in with him as a live-in caregiver. He said the two had crossed paths many years earlier in Caro. Schutzler, who worked for Michigan Rehabilitation Services, was appointed as Rosemary Vandecar’s occupational therapist during her divorce from Dan Vandecar’s father when Dan was seven years old.
Once they were reacquainted in Las Vegas, Dan Vandecar and Schutzler quickly developed a friendship.
“(Schutzler) had never left the state of Michigan,” Vandecar said. “He was a die-hard Lone Ranger fan and had read about the Chisholm Trail and all that stuff. That’s what took him out west: He wanted to see all those things he’d read about.
“I taught that guy how to use scratch-off tickets, took him to Hooters and took him to the bar for the first time in his life. It was a good time, and it went down in a way that I never expected.”
Vandecar spent a week in Las Vegas during his mother’s trial to deliver a 45-minute testimony, identify his mother for the court and look at an autopsy photo to identify Schutzler’s body. He was escorted by police to and from court proceedings and was not allowed in the courtroom when the jury delivered its guilty verdict.
“I didn’t necessarily go out (to Las Vegas) to testify against my mom,” he said, “I went out to testify (to uphold the) law and for justice for what happened to Roy. It was to make sure, whether she was guilty or not, that at least my side got out and Roy’s legacy was told with respect.”
In the months after Schutzler’s murder, Vandecar says that despite knowing that his mother alone was responsible, he has been plagued with feelings of guilt that resulted in severe depression. He said he turned to alcohol to avoid his problems until he received his second DUI on March 19.
He has been sober since and receives counseling at the VA Medical Center in Saginaw, where he also volunteers to run bingo games to entertain older veterans who stay there. He says with the help of his girlfriend, his father and his friend’s dog, he is working to put the incident behind him.
“I’ve been kind of keeping myself under my own personal gag order until it was over,” he said. “I’m dealing with, not the guilt, but the ‘funk’ afterwards. Me and (Roy Schutzler), we were really good friends. I got along with the guy better than anything. It was hard to see the autopsy photo and bring back those memories, because we shared a lot of good ones.
“The biggest problem I’m coming to grips with is (wondering why) my own mother would be willing to drag me through that kind of fire.”
Bill Petzold is a staff writer for the Tuscola County Advertiser. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.