To those who knew him, Harold Brooks was the victim of a motorcycle accident that left him unable to walk and unable to work.
To police and prosecutors, he was part of a small-time drug ring that sold illicit painkillers out of a fast food restaurant in Glen Burnie.
Yesterday, on the morning he was to have been tried on drug charges, the former weight lifter and nuclear health technician was found dead in his Glen Burnie apartment -- his body half-fallen out of his wheelchair onto the bathroom floor.
The state medical examiner's office has scheduled an autopsy today to decide whether the death was suicide or an accident.
Those who knew Mr. Brooks say in some ways his end stemmed from a downward spiral that began nine years ago when he was run off a North Carolina highway while riding a motorcycle and left for dead.
"He was a wonderful person, but he had such a tough life. With the accident, it just seemed to hurt him so much," said his mother, Jessie Brooks, of Fort Pierce, Fla.
Mr. Brooks, 40, who lived in a high-rise for the elderly and handicapped in the 7900 block of Benesch Circle, was charged in July with five counts each of possession and distribution of drugs.
Investigators said he sold alprazolam, the ingredient in a prescription tranquilizer, to county police Detective Harry Peterson five times between last March 14 and May 27, at the McDonald's in the 6900 block of Ritchie Highway.
Richard Palumbo, Mr. Brooks' lawyer, said his client sold the pills only after the detective approached him several times, and only because the detective said he was in pain.
"He identified with this guy and he finally agreed to help him out," Mr. Palumbo said.
But State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said a police investigation lead to Mr. Brooks and four others who were selling prescription drugs in Glen Burnie last year.
Two co-defendants were convicted on distribution charges in December and two other cases are still pending, he said.
"The fact that he apparently committed suicide may well have been due to other factors in his life beyond the trial," Mr. Weathersbee said.
Mr. Brooks had no previous convictions, court records showed, and Mr. Palumbo said it is unlikely his client would have faced jail had he pleaded guilty to simple possession charges.
Mr. Brooks' friends say he knew that, but that the charges still seemed to hang heavily over him.
"He was having fantasies about what they would do if they put him in prison," said Ed Riley, a friend from Annapolis.
Mr. Brooks grew up in Huntington, N.Y., where he graduated from Suffolk Community College in 1974.
He lived in Miami after graduation and worked at power plants in St. Lucie and Turkey Point, Fla., before the motorcycle accident, his mother said.
After recuperating in hospitals for two years, he went to live with his parents, who had retired to Fort Pierce.
He moved to Annapolis four years ago to work for the former International Resources Management, a firm that specialized in nuclear plant safety.
But he was forced to quit after two months because his injuries left him unable to control his bodily functions, Mrs. Brooks said.
Mr. Brooks supported himself on $400 a month in Social Security, said Mr. Palumbo, who took the case for free at the request of a mutual friend.
Mrs. Brooks said that when he quit working, her son, who had displayed a talent for artwork, talked of careers as a calligrapher or a writer.
The week before he died, he told her he had traded a lamp for a typewriter, and was going to pursue his writing, she said.
In a telephone conversation with her two days before he died, she said, he did not seem depressed.