VISTA — In the weeks since 43-year-old Theodore “Teddy” Stewart was shot and killed during an alleged break-in at a Vista residence, his friends have been left with many questions about the circumstances of his final moments due to his history of seizures and sleepwalking.
Stewart died early on a mid-November morning outside a residence in the 1700 block of York Drive. Around 5 a.m., the resident of the home called the police to report a man wandering around their backyard, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
While speaking with the caller, San Diego County Sheriff’s deputies reportedly overheard them say that the man was attempting to break in and then heard a gunshot. Deputies arrived and discovered a man, later identified as Stewart, lying outside the home with a gunshot wound.
Stewart was provided medical aid and taken to the hospital, where he later died, according to the Sheriff’s Department. Officials initially called the Nov. 16 incident a homicide, and as of early January, they are continuing to investigate the circumstances surrounding the apparent break-in.
When news of Stewart’s death hit social media, his friends in the Vista area immediately pushed back against the idea that he was trying to burglarize the home. After struggling with addiction in the past, friends say Stewart was sober, had a full-time job at a pharmacy manufacturing company and was flying to see his family on the East Coast the next day.
Instead, their minds went to Stewart’s medical history of seizures, which often left him disoriented and confused about where he was.
“I know he comes out of his seizures and he’s not all there. It takes him a little time to know where he is,” said Darwin Dement, Stewart’s friend of four years who was supposed to take him to the airport the day after he died. “I think he got lost, and something looked familiar, and he tried to get back in the house.”
According to his friends, Stewart was known to sometimes wander at night in a state of disorientation, entering bedrooms that weren’t his and not knowing how he had gotten there. Once, Stewart wandered away from his own home in the aftermath of a seizure, they said.
Dement said that in 2022, when he lived with Stewart in an apartment along Palm Drive, Stewart was found one night wandering across the street at a neighboring building “totally disoriented.”
David Leoni, another roommate at the time, also confirmed this account and said Stewart wasn’t able to remember how he had gotten there.
“At 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning, there was a bunch of ruckus. He was wandering at the duplexes,” Leoni said.
Leoni believes something similar could have happened on the morning Stewart was shot. His home at Buena Vista Mobile Home Park was around a quarter-mile from the residence where he was killed, indicating that he could have walked there.
Leoni also claimed that a detective told him Stewart wasn’t wearing shoes, indicating that he wasn’t fully aware of his surroundings that night.
To him, it doesn’t make sense that Stewart would attempt to burglarize someone’s home, especially when he was doing well and had plans to see his family the next day.
“The only thing I could figure out is that he would have been sleepwalking or disoriented. It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Leoni said.
The Coast News was unable to obtain records of the alleged 2022 incident where Stewart wandered onto a neighboring property during a seizure. The Sheriff’s Department denied a public records request for information about past law enforcement interactions with Stewart from the past two years, stating that they can only release records of incidents that occurred within the past 30 days.
Another friend who has doubts is Ron Minges, who worked at a rehabilitation program that Stewart attended around four years ago. The two remained friends, and he said Stewart was someone who had overcome his difficult circumstances and done well, going through recovery from a drug addiction and supporting himself.
He said Stewart enjoyed going to concerts and would attend AA meetings.
“He was working and doing everything he was supposed to,” Minges said. “Why would he burglarize someplace if he had a full-time job?”
Stewart’s family could not be contacted for this story. His social media indicates that he attended high school in Philadelphia.
While the incident is still under investigation, sheriff’s officials said they are aware of Stewart’s medical history with seizures. They also hinted that drugs could have been at play the night of Stewart’s death and alleged that he had a criminal history.
Lt. Joseph Jarjura confirmed that Stewart was taking medication for epileptic seizures at the time, a condition that can cause disorientation. He also confirmed speaking with Stewart’s friends about previous seizure incidents.
“People we talked with indicated he would have episodes in which he wasn’t aware of where he was, but they mostly occurred in the place he was residing or renting,” Jarjura said.
Jarjura also noted Stewart’s history of addiction, claiming that deputies found what appeared to be drugs in his room. He also said Stewart presumptively tested positive for drugs but did not clarify the drugs involved.
Full confirmation of whether there were drugs in his system will be available in the medical examiner’s report, which will likely not be completed for months, Jarjura said.
Leoni said he did not believe that Stewart was using drugs again.
“I doubt that very, very much,” he said.
According to the Sheriff’s Department, Stewart previously faced a charge of assault with a deadly weapon following a violent altercation between him and another individual, which court records indicate occurred in 2019. Jarjura said the resulting head injury is what caused Stewart’s seizures and epilepsy.
Sheriff’s officials also claimed that Stewart was acting aggressively on the night he was shot. Jarjura said the homeowner heard Stewart climb the gate to his home, move around the property, pound on his front door and start shouting when he told Stewart to leave.
After that, Jarjura said that Stewart broke the glass of a window with his hands and climbed into the window, at which point he presumably was shot.
“There was obvious damage to the outside front chain-link fence, and the entire front window was smashed,” Jarjura said.
The Sheriff’s Department denied a request for the 911 call made on the night of Stewart’s death, citing the ongoing investigation.
Stewart’s friends say that while there are many unanswered questions at this point, they don’t want him to go down being thought of as a thief.
“When I heard about the shooting at first, I just brushed it off, that is, until I saw his name as the person identified in the shooting, and I couldn’t believe it,” said Will Benitez, who met Stewart at Casa Raphael, a men’s treatment facility in Vista. “All I know is that my friend is gone and I won’t get to speak to him ever again.”