Contestant With Rocky Past Described As "Quiet," "To Himself"

His full name, Richard Thomas Vega, Jr. He would have celebrated his 25th birthday next month. His father-in-law describes him as a good man. "He'd give the shirt off his back to you if you needed it," says Dubi Gutierrez. One of Vega's two jobs was at the FedEx ground office on Robertson Road in Tyler. Gutierrez says he would work long hours to help support his wife and two young children. "My daughter she's lost it. I'm feeling for my daughter now. I really am, that girl loved him dearly. They've been through bad times," says Gutierrez. Those tough times include run-ins with the law. In August 2003 Vega was charged with assault, causing bodily injury. The victim in this case was his wife. Another incident happened months later, but authorities say his wife decided not to press charges. Last November, several warrants were issued for Vega's arrest for traffic violations. The fines exceeded $2,000. But Vega's troubles may have begun years ago, when his father committed suicide. "He never had a father figure. It was always in the back of his head he always talked about his dad," says Gutierrez. Some of Vega's neighbors say the times when he was seen, things seemed ok. "It's very surprising because they seem like a happy family. He's always out in the yard playing with the kids," says Amanda Cooper, Vega's next door neighbor. Happy times that mirror the smile on Vega's face seen in his "Hands on a Hardbody" contest photo. He writes that he entered the contest 60 times, that he entered to win and when asked how long he thought he'd last, Vega writes "to the end".

Christine Nelson reporting.