To Sheppard, though, that same life felt like it was collapsing in on itself. With his promotion had come the stress of new responsibilities and frequent travel. He had been steadily putting on weight and now tipped the scale at more than 300 pounds. Financially he was beyond overextended. A gadget lover whose spending always seemed to exceed his income, he had begun shifting his personal expenses to his corporate credit card — first dinner and drinks, then a washer and dryer, then family vacations. In early February, when an Eaton official emailed to inquire about his expense reports, he felt everything closing in. He began devising a plan to escape.
So on a Friday two weeks later, Sheppard drove with his wife, Monica, their daughter, and his mother-in-law to a rented cabin in the foothills of the Ozarks on the picturesque Little Red River, an hour from Searcy. He called it a much-needed last-minute getaway for the family, and for most of the weekend, it was.
Then, in the fading Sunday afternoon light, with his daughter and mother-in-law occupied in the cabin, Sheppard walked down to the dock with Monica and their black lab, Fluke. When Monica looked away, Sheppard helped the dog — always eager for a swim, just as he’d counted on — off the platform and into the Little Red River’s notoriously deadly current. His wife looked back just in time to see Sheppard heave his own 300-pound frame into the river after their beloved lab.
Thrashing in the 39-degree water, Sheppard managed to hand the leash up to Monica, who hauled the dog to safety. But he struggled to swim back to the dock. Flailing desperately, he gasped that he was having trouble breathing. A moment later, as the current pulled him downstream, his head dipped below the surface and didn’t reappear.