Reflections on the Life of Steve Inness

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appropriated from a Facebook page dedicated to Steve Inness
Appropriated from a Facebook page dedicated to Steve Inness

It was with great sadness on Thursday that I heard the news that Steve Inness had taken his own life, jumping in front of a train as it approached downtown Davis earlier this week. Police say the accident occurred at 12:45 a.m. along Second Street between Mace and the Pole Line overcrossing.

While I did not know Steve well, he was a familiar person to many in the community. He was heavily involved in the student robotics team. He would often attend city council meetings, Jumpstart events and other city functions.

He always went out of his way to say hi and express his thoughts on the topic of the day.

I share this story out of profound sadness.

It was Tuesday around noon. I was outside of the Grocery Outlet with my daughter, having just dropped off the little one at his preschool at Valley Oak. Steve approached and looked very shaken. I asked how he was and he said not well.

He asked if I would take his photo, but it seemed like an odd request and my daughter was hungry and wanted to eat lunch. So I declined.

I asked him if he was okay and what was wrong. He didn’t want to get into it. As he headed off, I confirmed with him again that he was all right and he said he was.

I have since talked to a lot of people who knew him far better than I did, who shared with me some of his struggles. One person told me that Steve was probably asking for a photo wanting to be remembered.  I regret not taking the photo now.  So I thought maybe writing this brief story would serve to honor his wishes.

I have also read many great stories of how Steve touched their lives. I am hoping that those of you who knew him better than I did, can share your thoughts and experiences.

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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39 thoughts on “Reflections on the Life of Steve Inness”

  1. PhilColeman

    Suicide has been described as one of the most selfish actions of humankind. Anybody who had any kind of encounter with the deceased just prior to the act invariably goes through guilty self-examination. “Did I somehow cause this to happen?” or, “Could I have done something to prevent this?”

    Decades ago, I had an adversarial contact with a fellow who was fighting with his girlfriend and I intervened. Later that evening the man shot himself in the head. The immediate result: Guilt, largely prompted by the sanctity of life taught as part of the Jewish/Christian ethic and our responsibility to protect vulnerable people. And this guy was a total stranger!

    Eventually, most in this circumstance come to realize that you took the action you did based on the circumstances present at the time. You can’t hit the life “re-set button,” and even had you done something different there is never a guarantee that the eventual ending of life would have happened anyway– perhaps under even worse circumstances. There is this thing called “fate,” and we are controlled by fate far more often than the reverse.

    1. davisite4

      There are lots of good essays out there debunking the notion that suicide is selfish.

      Here’s one:

      http://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2014/aug/12/robin-williams-suicide-and-depression-are-not-selfish

      from which I quote: “to say taking your own life because of such an illness is a ‘selfish’ act does nothing but insult the deceased, potentially cause more harm and reveal a staggering ignorance of mental health problems.

      That about sums it up.  Let’s try to honor the man’s life and mourn his loss instead, in the same way we would do if he had died of a physical illness.

  2. hpierce

    “Police say the accident occurred…”   No “accident”.

    Phil makes some good points, chief among them, ‘selfish’.  Think of the engineer operating the train… absolutely powerless… yet will have to live with the event… (I can hear some frequent flyers on this blog saying,  “well choose another occupation if you’re not prepared to handle it)”.  To me, any thoughts/prayers should be primarily directed towards the operator of the train.

    Suspect the train, and all of the passengers were delayed hours for the investigation, plus all the trains, freight and passenger that were probably delayed as I suspect, for the safety of the investigators, both of the main lines were shut down.  Yes, I was on a passenger train, delayed for 4-5 hours, due to a ‘suicide by train’ via a freight train that proceeded us.  A daughter was delayed ~ 2A, in a remote area of CA, when some guy decided to end his life via the Coast Starlight.

    Perhaps we/I should re-think “assisted suicide” to avoid the trauma to train personnel, and the financial consequences to others.

    Don’t know the victim/perp’s (depending on view) ‘social status’, but I can guess.

    That being said, I respect, David, your sense of loss, regret in not accommodating the picture request, and your well-meaning, gracious and noble offer to use this site to remember the PERSON.

    Been there.  About a year ago, a friend of ~ 40 years, returned to Davis to finish her education.  Somehow, she hooked up with three homeless guys (and one guy’s dog), who hung out in one of those makeshift “camps” near the Nishi property.  She called them “her boys”.  She brought them new socks, food, trying to give them what they needed, without giving them money, which may or may not have been ‘mis-spent’.  I learned of this when my friend needed a surgery, and on the way back from the procedure, she insisted on me taking her to meet “her boys”, and I grudgingly complied.  I got to meet “her boys” (and the dog).  They were reasonably clean, no overt signs of ‘chemical’ use (except nicotine), pleasant and friendly.  They were very fond of my friend, and concerned about how SHE was doing.  There was an obvious “leader”, Wes.  Got talking with him for ~ half hour, partly to form an opinion of whether my friend should be associated with him.  Came to the conclusion that he was doing the same.  Wes was ~55, a vet (who, as he described it, was ‘less than honorably discharged’), articulate, friendly, great sense of humor.  I kept wondering ‘how the hell did you come to this pass?’

    About a month later, heard that Wes had passed.  Heart attack, no drugs/alcohol involved.  I had to be the one to let my friend know.  His remains were left with the County.  Fortunately, Cass Silvia is someone I’ve known, so called her.  She was able to fill in some blanks, and Wes passed with only a hint of any survivors.  He was interred at the site in Knight’s Landing.

    I went there during the May event to honor and remember those who have passed and were under the care of the Public Guardian.  I spoke at the event to remember Wes, and to honor all of those who have no one else to do so.  Several people came up afterwards to say that I captured a certain essence of why THEY were there.

    So, David, I will not judge Steve as a person, but find his final action ‘wrong’.  At the end of the day, he was a human being and probably touched many lives along the way.  Including yours and your daughter’s.  I’ll keep him favorably in my thoughts and prayers, along with any friends and/or family he has chosen to leave behind.   And I am DEFINITELY praying for the “healing” of the engineer who was a victim in this tragedy.

    May we all remember and honor all the Steve’s and Wes’, and remember John Donne’s epic words… starts out, “no man is an island…”.  Let us all support mental health efforts.  Sounds like best way to remember Steve.

     

    1. hpierce

      BTW, David, if Mr Inness goes into the custody of the County (just guessing based on what you did and didn’t say), please set aside the Friday before Memorial Day (contact Ms Silvia to confirm), be there at the Knight’s Landing Cemetery, share, and hopefully “report”.  Stories that IMO need to be told and heard.  That would be a moving gesture towards Mr Inness.

      If you don’t show, I’ll read the ‘happy parts’ of your story here. I plan to be there.

  3. Anon

    Suicide is not a selfish act.  Life just becomes too painful to bear, for whatever reason.  It is an act of desperation.  A close friend of mine lost her young son this way.  There is no “fault” in suicide, there should be no blame of the victim or his family or friends.  A suicidal person is not thinking clearly/logically/with a proper sense of perspective at the time they make the decision to take their own life.  JMO

    1. hpierce

      But, the choice of a “manner” of suicide is/can be extremely ‘selfish’… even ‘mean’ (or, even evil).  Had a friend whose wife hanged herself in the garage.  Staged so that her 7 year old daughter found her first.  Suicide by cop, endangering and sometimes taking out out innocent lives.  Sandy Hook, where the guy was suicidal and actually took himself out.  Suicide by train.  I get part of your points.  You seem to miss the context of “manner” chosen.

      I worked a suicide prevention hotline for over 500 hours of volunteer service.  ‘High lethality’ calls were the hardest.  Heard the pain, understood the desperation.  Did not judge.  Tried to provide empathy, resources, and alternatives to get past the crisis [which is usually what it is… a ‘moment’ of extreme desperation, with the context of on-going  ‘pain’].  Usually did help, with the person’s help.  One night, I don’t know.  Never found out.  Moved out of the area shortly thereafter (no cause/effect).  Never could bring myself to do SP counselling again, except, perhaps, in minor ways interacting with others, in their daily lives, to not get near ‘the brink’.

      I repeat/clarify… committing suicide is not inherently selfish.  The manner in which someone chooses to do so, can be VERY EXTREMELY SELFISH, damaging/destroying others.

      What was 9/11 about?  Part politics, part suicidal tendencies.  How many committed suicide, how many did not?  Would you have us ‘respect’ the folk who chose to commit suicide with so much collateral damage?

       

      1. Anon

        “The manner in which someone chooses to do so, can be VERY EXTREMELY SELFISH, damaging/destroying others.”

        I cannot agree with you.  IMO, a more accurate statement would be: “The manner in which someone chooses to do so, can be EXTREMELY damaging/destroying to others…”  Let’s take a specific example (true story).  A girl from Ireland came to this country and was new to her high school. She was date raped by a football player, then bullied unmercifully every day at school, called a slut and whore.  One day this rape victim was walking home from school, and a car full of high school bullies drove by and threw a bottle of water at her.  This victim of rape reached her breaking point, went into her home, and hung herself.  Do you really want to call this young victim of rape “selfish” for the manner in which she took her own life?  Really?  The words “harshly judgmental” come to mind.

        9/11 was not about suicide, it was about homicide. If you cannot distinguish between the two, I can’t help you…

        1. hpierce

          If you cannot understand what I wrote (and, indeed, PART of 9/11 was conscious decision to commit suicide, while committing homocide), I cannot help you either.

          Let’s just agree not to help each other.

  4. Frankly

    As a very experienced “victim” of family suicide, I absolutely disagree with the popular “professional” opinion that suicide is not a selfish act.  It is absolutely a selfish act. The only “blame” goes to the person that kills himself or herself.

    Most people that commit suicide do so after contemplating it for many days, weeks, months or years.  During that time they would float between periods of clarity as to the external impact of that final act… that overly-extreme permanent end to their temporary problems.

    There is this tendency for some to discount the pain of relationship loss and assign all weight to individual physiological pain.  That is very troubling to me.  Everyone has a network of human relationships that provide life-value, but that should cause a commensurate return in responsibility for nurturing and maintaining those relationships.  Suicide is an “ef you” to those relationship connections… it is a message of “my relationship with you didn’t really mean that much to me.”  In the worst cases, it is a more direct “I am going to kill myself to layer on guilt to my relationships in retribution for not treating me well enough or for not caring for me enough.”

    Certainly psychological pain can overwhelm other considerations.  But again, few people commit suicide without having previously considered how that choice would harm others.

    I think we don’t help prevent more suicides by taking this view that we owe it 100% empathy and no criticism.

    My view is that it is a final selfish act worthy of both profound scorn and then eventual forgiveness.

    Some people are just not strong enough and cannot cope well enough to stick around to deal with their troubles.  I am critical of their choice that harms others, while eventually forgiving them for being so weak.

    Maybe medical science will eventually ID material causes that provide a more tangible source of understanding that we can use to help prevent suicide. Until then I want there to be social pressure against it being an accepted choice.

    1. Anon

      I am sorry for your personal loss, and can understand why you might think suicide a “selfish act”.  What you have to remember is that the person at the time of the suicide, found life too painful to bear for whatever reason, had a very serious and profound loss of a sense of perspective, and chose to do something that most of us find repugnant.  The loss of perspective caused them to forget how their final act would effect others.  Let me ask you this, have you ever done something that you deeply regret, that you wish you could do over again?  What were you thinking at the time?  What brought you to do such a foolish thing?

      I would also add that some of us have to deal with greater burdens/losses in life than others.  Because of those burdens/losses, some rise to the occasion, and some just cannot muster the inner fortitude to handle it well.   Crises often bring out the best and worst in people.  But because someone has experienced human failures, or doesn’t handle burdens/losses/crises well, perhaps because of their genetic makeup, mental illness, their personal background, their personal experiences, we should condemn them as selfish?  Judge not lest ye be judged…  Have you walked a mile in their shoes? Not being preachy, just posing the questions…

      1. Frankly

        These are all reasonable points and questions.

        Think about it this way, would you have the same feeling toward someone that kills another or others in a fit of psychological pain?

        I see suicide as similar.

        Think about it, dead people don’t feel.  100% of the harm done with death is the loss and impacts caused others that are living and can still feel.  We project feelings onto the dead.  “That poor person that is dead before their time.”  This is a completely irrational view.

        Murder someone and cause harm to the living.  Commit suicide and cause harm to the living.

        Psychological pain is temporary.  Often there are treatments to resolve the problems.  But death is permanent.  And the pain caused the living cannot be repaired.

        So I will stick with my opinion that suicide is selfish, harmful and worthy of forgiveness at some point.

        1. Anon

          You are certainly free to view suicide any way that you choose, no one can tell you how to feel.  But I ask you to take the example of that young Irish girl, and think about it.  In my view, not all suicide is equal, if that makes any sense.

          When someone blows someone else up to purposely harm others, that is homicide, and would be charged as such if the perpetrator survived the attempt, or tried and failed to carry it out.  (This is where hpierce and I part company big time in our thinking!)  I don’t even consider that suicide in the normal sense of the word.

          My friend had a mentally ill son who committed suicide which left my friend with a lot of guilt as his mother.  It destroyed her marriage, and I’m sure effected her other child.  But this boy had such mental health issues, he just could not bear to live with his terrible demons anymore.  I’m sure his judgment/sense of perspective was very skewed by his mental illness.

          I personally cannot find it in myself to pass judgment on someone who has chosen to commit suicide in these cases.    But that is just me… but it bothers me when others are so quick to condemn a suicidal person as being “selfish”.  Reminds me a bit of the religions that will refuse to bury a person who committed suicide in consecrated ground.  And does viewing it as a selfish act make anyone feel better about the suicide?

          So I guess we will have to agree to disagree, which is perfectly okay.

    2. hpierce

      I respect what you have/are going thru.  I am not (respectfully) out to prevent suicide, but want to deal with the realities that cause someone to seriously consider and/or commit it.  The particular manner of ‘commitment’ is abhorrent.

      Too much collateral damage, particularly to the train operator, his family and friends.

       

      1. Anon

        If this person hung himself in the town square, slit his wrists in the bathtub, took an overdose of pills, which one is less “selfish”? The coroner, EMT’s, family members still have to deal with the loss.  What “manner of suicide” would not be “selfish” in your book?  This seems like ridiculous hairsplitting to me…

        See my example above on your previous post…

    3. TrueBlueDevil

      I’m sorry for his loss, and David, you had nothing to do with his passing.

      An experienced counselor once told me it was often an act of revenge. He said he would have clients sometimes tell him “I’m thinking of killing myself.” … He’d often ask, “So who do you want to find the body?” Apparently that was his way of finding out who committed the transgressions that wounded the individual, who made their life horrible, so that they needed to gain retribution.

  5. David Greenwald Post author

    Guys: I ask you to be respectful here.  This is not meant to be a discussion of suicide.  I was interested in people reflecting on Steve’s life.  Please be respectful of community members here.

      1. jrberg

        David – You’re absolutely correct in asking for people to reflect on Steve’s life.  Steve was a frequent visitor to BAC (Bicycle Advisory Commission) meetings, and often had some very useful comment on the issues.  I had not met him before he started showing up at the meetings, but felt that he was very tuned into the cycling issues Davis needed to confront.

        I last saw him at the Farmer’s Market in early September.  I don’t know what was going through his mind then or after, but I am more than dismayed that he felt the need to remove himself from our community.  He will be missed.

         

        1. Anon

          I knew I recognized Steve from somewhere.  Yes, he was a very avid bicycle advocate, who was often at BAC meetings or speaking at City Council meetings on behalf of bicyclists.  He will be greatly missed.

  6. Tia Will

    I did not know Steve well. However, we frequently ran in to each other at events in town. Steve always took the time to stop and talk to me. He was friendly and a careful and thoughtful listener. I will miss him.

  7. Alan Miller

    You know what is more selfish than suicide?  Discussing the politics of suicide in what was asked to be a memorial section.  I hadn’t realized the extent to which some commenters here were complete selfish jerks.

  8. Alan Miller

    As so many started out here, I didn’t know Steve well.  I heard about the death by train, and until I know for sure, always wonder if it’s someone I knew.  Steve cared deeply about Davis and Davis issues, and showed up at more meetings than anyone I have known.  His interests seemed limitless.  He seemed a decent sort, and was always up for a good discussion.  I was pleased when he showed up for our most recent “Pancakes & Poltics” discussion.

    I hope some of his friends will post here, and in this special circumstance I hope the above discussion is removed or moved to a page on the nature of suicide.  Respect for the dead, their family and friends . . .

    1. hpierce

      Thank you Matt.

      If this had been at the top of the page, or in the article, this whole discussion would have been different, I believe.  And rightfully so.

      Coulda, shoulda, woulda.  David’s article focussed so much on the details of the passing, and references to “signs”,  I and others focussed on the wrong elements.  As for me, I apologize to all, for my being “off-topic”. Repeatedly.

  9. Edgar Wai

    I met Steve at WEF, at entrepreneurs presentations, and at the robotics team. For the robotics team, I think we went to the same first mentorship meeting in the same year (for the same subject area of electronics). His knowledge, passion, and dedication were inspiring. Even though I was not part of the team, I was glad that he was a mentor.

    Other than these events, I don’t know him more as a person. However, I always felt comfortable talking with him, and believed that he and I were the same type of people, yet he was more knowledgeable, more caring, more patient, more polite, more connected to the community, to list a few differences. I consider him a better, nicer person overall compared to myself.

    From the davis wiki page, he believed there were five areas one could focus on in life: knowledge, romance, money, health, happiness. He said he focused on knowledge in the expense of others, but I believe he was truly happy in gaining and sharing his knowledge also.

    On whether suicide is selfish, I think unless someone does so out of grudge, the manner it happens basically follow the path of least resistance. Someone who is gerenally happy and positive would not prepare the best way to commit suicide, instead, they think about what they could do to avoid so. When they are finally overcome they pick the most familiar, quickest, and most certain way.

    I believe that Steve could have considered the impact and wished for forgiveness. I forgive him and wish that he went with a sense of fulfillment knowing that many people liked him for who he was.

    RIP Steve, thank you for fighting your battle for so long. In a marathon with no ending, the distance you went was commendable.

  10. darelldd

    Police say the accident occurred

    Even if the police say it, please decline to repeat it next time. This, and MOST incidents that we call “accidents” are not.

    —————-

    Davis has lost a positive force. I got to know Steve over the years when we both realized that he and I were showing up at the same functions. Energy efficiency, renewable energy, bicycles, LEDs, Electric Vehicles – our paths seemed to cross constantly, and we would always joke about how we would have been shocked if the other hadn’t shown up. We had countless deep conversations about each of these subjects. It was rare that our paths would not cross about once a week while we rode about performing our errands in and around town. How man times have we stood astride our bikes at the side of the street, chatting or as long as we could until one of us had to make the next appointment? I learned a lot from Steve. And he’s one of the few bright guys who has ever flattered ME with respect for my knowledge and opinions. This is a hard one for me to deal with. A less selfish individual I have not met. You may call suicide whatever you wish. Those of you who did not know Steve should not call the man selfish.

    Thanks for posting this David.

     

  11. kathyinnis

    Please remember that Steve still has family living in Canada, I am one of them. Although I only met Steve through email once, I am currently in Nova Scotia with his father Lowell Inness who is devastated and shocked at this news. Please share the beautiful stories and not the personal opinions about what you feel about suicide being right or wrong. If you aren’t Steve you have zero place to judge. Judge not lest you be judged. That is for Steve’s maker alone- God Almighty who created him in and saw all the good Steve did and will take into account what no other saw. Steve was very broken by his sister’s death at this same time last year, his other sister-who is twin to the one who has passed is in her final stages of Huntington’s. No older gentleman should have to live through the loss of his 3 children in just over a single year. Judge Not.

    1. Matt Williams

      Thank you for sharing these thoughts. It is hard to imagine what Lowell Inness is going through now, and I hope all the warmth that was felt for Steve in the Davis community is traveling the 3,000 miles to Nova Scotia and providing Lowell support in this trying time.

  12. Bob F

    In 1983, prompted by my special-ed teacher, I won the Rocky’s Boots computer contest, the prize being a trip to computer camp. Not only did I win the contest… I was far ahead of the competition.  It was so exciting!

    For my prize, I chose the computer camp in the hills above Reno, NV.  There, I met Steve Inness about 18 at the time (I was 10).  He would walk around camp in the evenings playing music on his home-made battery-powered computer, which he called the Crooner.  I admired him so much, he was someone like me!  I felt we were friends forever.  And pen-pals.

    The next year, Steve visited my home for a few days.  He taught me about key technology, such as battery chargers and how modems work.  He was clearly a brilliant misfit, having a hard time in life, and talked about it with my mother a lot.  I felt that bond again, someone like me.  I always wanted the best for him; he lived in Redwood City at the time.

    We continued to correspond.  He would send me the most wonderful handwritten letters, complete with his moniker: SLI, and the symbol for a resister.  I treasured those letters; probably still have them, in fact.

    Soon after, we fell out of touch when he told me he moved (and didn’t give a forwarding address).  I sent letters, hoping for the best.  His absence left a hole in my life for years — to this day, in fact.

    I once managed to track Steve down while I was in graduate school (late 1990’s), and talk with him on the phone.  He was homeless at the time.  He shared some of his stories of how he had trusted the wrong people, built good tech for them, and been ripped off.  So sad.  He seemed so angry and bitter.  I wanted only the best for him, and prayed that he would find his place in this world.  And a roof over his head.  My life has been no picnic either.

    That was the last time I talked with Steve.  Every now and then, I would search him on-line. I never gave up hope that we would meet once again.  I am so sad, but not surprised, to learn that this is how it ended.  Steve, you are my shining star, I will always love you.  This world can be cruel, I hope you are in a happier place now.  The world is a poorer place without you.

     

  13. BradF

    Hi David,
    I just came across your article on Steve Inness. I Googled him for the first time in several years after seeing “Spotlight” this weekend. I was surprised, and yet not, to hear that he took his own life.

    Steve was (in my and my younger brother’s experience) a pedophile who molested us both when we were prepubescent boys attending the National Computer Camps. I would imagine he targeted a great number of boys over the years; his obits seem to indicate he remained very interested in “teaching.”

    In that regard, the photo in this article is particularly unsettling: http://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/friends-honor-memory-of-train-crash-victim/

    I’m not sure why I’m writing, exactly. I guess I’ve always hoped to find other men who were victimized by him when they/we were boys. And, if anyone reading this has young sons who were in contact with Steve, I hope you will make note of any changes in their affect or behavior and try to ensure they feel safe enough to speak up.

    If nothing else, I’m not surprised that you were put off by Steve’s request for a photo. He was a very disturbed, and disturbing, man. That doesn’t diminish his genius; indeed, that genius is what drew me to him as a lonely and computer-obsessed kid. But, it certainly complicates his legacy. Now that he’s gone, I doubt that the real story will ever be told…

    I would imagine this comment will be deleted, or at least met with furious defenses of Steve’s character. I’m not trying to denigrate him; I’m a psychologist and understand that pedophilia is an illness, which current theories suggest may be a hardwired variance in orientation. But, secrecy and denial both impede treatment for men unfortunate enough to be structured in that way and allow their abusive behavior to continue in the shadows  I hope if anyone else out there Googles him, and reads this post, and was similarly affected, they will find some validation and solace in my words.

    Thanks for your time,
    Brad

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