Lower Burrell couple mourns loss of son to heroin
A 2011 Burrell High School graduate and wrestling champion, David Makara didn’t live to see his 25th birthday — another victim of the heroin epidemic.
His story is one of academic and athletic potential colliding with addiction and ending with a fatal drug overdose.
It started with promise.
Amy Capiross of Apollo, Makara’s cousin, said she remembers the “small but strong” child Makara once was. Ten years his elder, Capiross said Makara was shy but slowly warmed up to family and friends.
In her memory, Makara was respectful, and his athletic prowess was obvious at an early age.
“I thought he’d wind up in the Olympics,” she said.
She wasn’t the only one with high hopes for Makara’s future.
Burrell High School Principal Jon Boylan remembers Makara “had limitless potential and energy, as he was blessed with so much innate athletic and academic ability.”
And he was polite.
Ted and Karen Makara pictured in their Lower Burrell home on Tuesday, March 14, 2017. Photo by Louis B. Ruediger
“He always had a smile on his face,” Boylan said.
“He was a great young man, a tireless worker and very coachable,” remembered Chris Como, one of Makara’s high school coaches. “He was extremely gifted and amazingly strong for his size.”
“He was a tremendous wrestler and a tremendous leader,” added Josh Shields, another of Makara’s high school coaches.
Makara won WPIAL and statewide honors three times as a high school wrestler and, when he graduated, he had a full scholarship to attend Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.
“Dave was a hard-working kid, and a very solid athlete and a hard-nosed wrestler. Our prayers and deepest condolences go out to his family,” said R.C. LaHaye, who coached Makara at Grand Canyon.
But, unknown to his parents and other family members, drug use had a grip on Makara even while he was in high school.
Makara, his family would find out, was going to parties and snorting crushed narcotic pills.
At home, there were signs. His parents, Ted and Karen Makara, said their son wasn’t always the polite student-athlete the public saw. He began to dislike any type of authority.
Makara went to Grand Canyon University, but his academic career lasted only about two years.
Ted Makara talks about his son David’s battle with addiction at his Lower Burrell home on Tuesday, March 14, 2017. Photo by Louis B. Ruediger
He told his parents he was unhappy with the many rules imposed by the university on student athletes and he didn’t like being so far from home.
So he returned, and his parents encouraged him to think about other opportunities he might have. But the encouragement sometimes led to arguments.
When it was suggested that he attend Penn State New Kensington on the way to earning a specialized engineering degree, Makara said he didn’t want any part of that, his father recalled.
Even then, the Makaras said, their son showed signs of being happy and confident. After an argument, they would see the fun-loving child they used to know emerge, even if only briefly.
A change of direction
Increasingly, family and friends say, Makara complained about having to follow rules.
Yet he did the last thing anyone with such disdain for authority would be expected to do: He enlisted in the Army.
And, still, there was reason for hope. The Army made Makara retake his induction academic tests because his scores were unusually high.
“They couldn’t believe he tested so high. We knew he was bright,” Karen Makara said.
After basic training, Makara signed up for Airborne training at Fort Bragg, N.C. His parents said he was determined to get one of the few, coveted slots in the Army’s Special Forces.
Karen Makara pages through her son, David Makara’s, military paperwork at her Lower Burrell home on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 Photo by Louis B. Ruediger
A downward spiral
It didn’t work out. Although he completed the training and was an Army paratrooper, he didn’t make the Special Forces.
That left him disappointed and unhappy, his parents said.
Finally, with the Army fed up with his continuing discipline problems, Makara was discharged.
“His captain called us with Dave in the room and said the Army was through with him,” Ted Makara said.
Again, Makara returned home, broke, disillusioned and disaffected.
One thing was clear: Makara was addicted to drugs, mostly heroin, and his life-wrenching downward spiral was starting to speed up.
His family said Makara was arguing more and more with his parents and brothers. He refused to get addiction treatment, and aspired to do nothing — nothing at all.
“He told me that he liked to party,” Ted Makara said.
Makara’s steadfast refusal to pursue drug treatment was frustrating for his family.
“I said, ‘Son, I’ll drive you anywhere you want to go,’ and he said he would go but he’d run away after I left,” said Ted Makara, a retired tool and die maker.
Just before Thanksgiving 2015, without any notice, Makara moved out of his parent’s home. He was unhappy that he wasn’t able to get a good job because he couldn’t pass a drug test.
Life, death on the street
By January 2016, he was living on Pittsburgh’s North Side. His parents had given him a cellphone to stay in touch, but he never used it to call them. As far as they can tell, his life involved temporary jobs, sometimes staying in a men’s shelter, and at least two scrapes with the law. He was using heroin.
On March 3 of this year, David Makara’s lifeless body was found face-down along Boyle Street, mere blocks from the Light of Life shelter and Allegheny General Hospital, his parents said.
When investigators moved his body, a needle and a spoon were found.
“It appeared that he sat down to use (drugs) and then was getting up to go to the shelter — you can’t use there — and he fell face down,” Ted Makara said.
“We were outside doing something and I went back inside to the kitchen,” Karen Makara said. “I saw the phone light was blinking. It said ‘Allegheny County Medical Examiner,’ and I just knew. I just knew.”
“What can you do? Can you prevent it? I only know that when you’ve had enough and you are at the end of your rope, just sit down. Take a break. Regroup and keep trying because the alternative, the ultimate outcome, isn’t good,” Ted Makara said. “Don’t ever give up on your young ones. You might be able to get through.”
At least, Karen Makara hopes, her son’s story might save someone else’s son.
“We aren’t proud or happy about what he did, but we aren’t hiding it. Maybe it can help someone else.”
Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4711 or [email protected]