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Fundraiser for man who committed suicide at Element 11

Published July 17, 2014 6:03 pm

Investigation • Friend says John Christopher Wallace took mescaline.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A gallery show featuring the art of John Christopher Wallace, the Salt Lake City man who killed himself by leaping into a ceremonial bonfire last weekend, will be held Friday to help pay for his funeral.

The show will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Mod a-go-go gallery at 242 E. South Temple. All of the proceeds from the show will go to help pay for Wallace's funeral. Three of Wallace's pieces have already been sold since his death, and Marcus Gibby, 37, owner of the art gallery, said he expects to sell out.

The night of July 12, hundreds of onlookers watched as Wallace, whom friends knew as Chris, ran full-speed into the flames of a giant bonfire that was supposed to mark the celebratory culmination of the Element 11 festival in Grantsville. Though volunteer fire safety rangersrushed to extinguish the flames, they could not save the 30-year-old man.

According to Grantsville police Lt. Steve Barrett, Wallace had told people earlier that day of his plans to leap into the burning effigy. But Rebecca Palmer, 29, who invited Wallace to the festival and spent much of Saturday with him, told the Tribune that he had seemed happy.

He had also taken mescaline, Palmer said, adding that she had reported that to police.

Barrett said police have asked the medical examiner for a toxicology report to determine if Wallace had drugs in his system. Barrett confirmed that police had heard Wallace had taken mescaline, but added that a final autopsy report will likely take four to six weeks to be completed.

In the months leading up the festival, Wallace had seemed happy, Palmer said. He had a very loving relationship with his wife, he had been exercising more, and he had just gotten a promotion. On the Sunday after the festival, Wallace had made plans to watch the World Cup game in Salt Lake City.

Wallace took mescaline, a hallucinogen, on Saturday afternoon, Palmer said. He was "giddy and probably kind of manic," Palmer recalled. As evening approached, Wallace became "a little upset for awhile," but by the time his friends left him in his tent and went to the bonfire, he seemed peaceful. When they saw a man dance around the fire before flinging himself into the flames, they did not know it was Wallace.

"Everybody walked back to the camp stunned, not understanding what had happened," Palmer said. As they searched for Wallace, Palmer and her friends wound up at the ranger station on the festival grounds. That's when they were shown a video of the suicide and realized that the man who had run into the fire was their friend.

That night, they hardly slept. In the morning, they took down his tent and left.

"I feel like it was more an accident, like a car crash, than it was like somebody who was suffering for a long time and took drastic action," Palmer said. "You definitely shouldn't leave your friends alone if you can see that they're impaired."

Danny Chadwick, 33, who was Wallace's best work friend at the technology website Top Ten Reviews, where Wallace worked as a copy editor until October 2013, did not think the suicide was premeditated.

"I have a hard time believing that if he was in a correct state of mind he would have charged at a one-hundred-foot fire burning at two-thousand degrees," said Chadwick, adding that Wallace never showed signs of suffering from mental illness.

Wallace, who had no life insurance, is survived by his wife, Elisabeth.In addition to the art show, family members have launched a campaign on the website Fundly to raise money for the funeral. With 207 donors, the campaign had by Thursday afternoon raised $15,395, surpassing organizers' $15,000 goal.

"I, and Chris's family, have been overwhelmed by this response," Amy Naseath, a cousin of Wallace's widow who started the Fundly campaign, told The Tribune in a Facebook message. "I really hope that the art work fundraiser is as successful as the Fundly page, because Elisabeth is going to need all the help she can get as she struggles to heal from this tragedy."

hstevens@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Harry_Stevens