How Max Cavalera Lost his Son and Birthed Soulfly

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If you open the booklet of the 1998 Soulfly debut album, you’ll see that Max Cavalera made a dedication to a number of people, but most notably to Dana Wells, his stepson.

He wrote, “‘Bleed’ and ‘First Commandment’ are dedicated to the people involved in the murder of Dana Wells and the cover-up of his death. You know who you are. Judgement is coming.”

And when you look at the art work of the CD, you see a heart with wings over a lotus flower with the words, “In Loving Memory Dana.” This is actually a picture of the tattoo that Dana’s mother, Gloria Cavalera has on her back.

So what exactly happened to Dana and the Cavalera clan?

Overview

The report from the Phoenix police stated that on the morning of the 16th of August 1996 at 1:43AM, Dana Wells was driving a 1995 Hyundai Accent when he lost control of the vehicle and collided into a tree.

An eyewitness driving toward the accident saw two cars speeding beside one another. A green car was to the right and a white car with a black pinstripe on the side was beside it in the center lane.

The eyewitness saw the green car slide, hit a tree and flip over. The white car kept driving.

Dana was not the only person in this car which belonged to his girlfriend, Kristin who was staying over Dana’s house that night. When emergency personnel arrived on the scene, Shawn Thomas and Miles Graci were found injured but alive. Dana was the only casualty.

At the time of the accident, Max was touring with Sepultura. Gloria Cavalera, his wife and Dana’s mom, was Sepultura’s manager at that time.

Sepultura’s guitarist Andreas Kisser got the news first and told Gloria. Naturally, she was extremely distraught. Sepultura was touring with Ozzy Osboure and he loaned Gloria and Max his private jet so they could immediately fly from Donington in England back home to Arizona, while Kisser took over vocals for the time being.

It took firefighters several minutes to extricate the two men from the vehicle. Graci’s legs were broken and Thomas suffered a broken jaw and facial abrasions. They were both taken to the hospital.

Detective Don Ripley contacted Shawn Thomas who was in the intensive care unit and asked about the events leading up to the collision. Thomas stated that he, Dana and Miles Graci were at Liguori’s Bar on East Indian School Road.

They arrived at approximately 11:45 p.m. and stayed there for about one hour. Shawn stated they were headed home. However, he does not remember anything after leaving the parking lot of the bar.

Detective Ripley did not speak to Miles Graci until the following day because Graci was in surgery. But when the detective spoke to Graci, his story was exactly the same as Shawn Thomas’.

What are the odds that both men would claim amnesia, especially when Thomas had time to speak with Graci before the detective got to Graci, a fact that Thomas confirmed in a later deposition.

Dana’s mom, Gloria Cavalera filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Shawn Thomas and Miles Graci, and during the deposition, they remembered more details that occurred prior to the car crash.

Graci and Thomas travelled to Dana Wells’ house in Graci’s 1985 Pontiac Firebird, hung out there for about 45 minutes, smoked some weed and then decided to play pool at Liguori’s bar. When they tried to leave, Graci’s car wouldn’t start and so Dana borrowed his girlfriend’s Hyundai.

Remember earlier when Thomas said that they arrived at about 11:45PM and that they stayed at the bar for about an hour? Graci stated that he couldn’t remember the time they got there nor for how long they stayed, but claimed that they were still playing pool until 1AM.

Thomas altered his story a bit by saying that they were playing pool at the bar for an hour and a half, and that they left Liguori’s at 1:30AM.

When the three men left the bar, Thomas had some Funyuns that he left in the car but apparently there were ants in it. So he rushed back into the bar to rinse his mouth out. Graci corroborated this.

Phoenix forensic psychiatrist Steven Pitt stated:

“It is possible to sustain amnesia absent a head injury, such as a scenario where an individual watches someone get run over by a truck, but has no memory of the event. The sheer trauma of witnessing or experiencing such a horrible event could cause an individual to disassociate from the event.

“However, is it incredibly suspicious for two individuals to report the same level and degree of retrograde amnesia, right down to the last bag of chips? I would say it’s certainly cause for concern.

“Given the legal and medical context of this case, one would be remiss if they didn’t consider such individuals could be malingering their amnesia.”

Thomas and Graci filed a lawsuit against Allstate, Dana Wells’ girlfriend’s car insurance company. Real classy — and that was after they got $30,000 from Dana’s insurance policy. Look, I get it. Medical costs are expensive, but in my opinion, this is inappropriate.

Allstate’s attorney asked Graci if he had amnesia the night of the accident. Graci said yes. He asked if he spoke to a neurologist about it. Graci said no.

Allstate’s attorney also mentioned that the hospital had no record of Graci suffering either retrograde or anterograde amnesia, meaning that there were no signs that Graci was unable to recall events before the crash or unable to retain new information after the crash.

Yeah, it’s pretty odd that they couldn’t remember anything, they claimed amnesia but they didn’t seem to show any of the typical symptoms such as confusion, not being able to recognize faces and forgetting the amnesia episode ever happened. They just don’t remember.

Also, when I read the deposition, the way Graci and Thomas answered the lawyers just seemed very… odd. Dana was their friend, right? So why did they sound so stiff in certain parts and defensive in others? Why did they continue to claim amnesia where there was no evidence that they suffered amnesia?

It would be difficult to charge Graci and Thomas with any crime, so why would they not mourn their friend’s death in the way that it would be appropriate? And why would Dana just swing his girlfriend’s car into a tree and die, completely unprovoked? Unless the car had something wrong with it, and there’s no indication that there was, there’s something else to this story.

Sketchy People Doing Sketchy Things

Understandably, Max was distraught from his son’s death. But he was professional about it and after Dana’s funeral, he rejoined Sepultura on tour. But something was increasingly different.

Max’s bandmates sat with him and spoke about their request to fire Gloria as manager. Their reason? She was giving him much more attention. This infuriated Max who decided to quit Sepultura in December 1996.

Andreas Kisser, Igor Cavalera (Max’s brother) and Paulo Pinto Jr. were apparently having issues with Gloria for years. Andreas mentioned that when Gloria and Max gave birth to Zyon Cavalera, Gloria got Max to pose with Zyon on the cover of a magazine instead of the band.

Andreas felt as if Sepultura was merely Max’s support band.

I don’t know where to stand on this. For starters, Gloria is Max’s wife. Dana was Max’s son and friend. Gloria is Dana’s mother! The emotions involved are going to make it extremely difficult for anyone.

But because Gloria had a job to manage the band and it’s not like I was there to witness Gloria ignoring the other band members, maybe Andreas and the others had a point?

Then again, is it unusual for the frontman of a band to pose alone or to be front and center while the other members are staring off into the distance? He is after all the face of the band. Is it right? Maybe not. But it isn’t unusual.

However, in an interview with FaceCulture, Max stated that when he and Gloria returned to Phoenix, Andreas’ wife tried to bury Dana before they got home, to get it over and done with.

That’s pretty messed up, but also confusing because Andreas had an acoustic set with Jason Newsted at Dana’s funeral. So I don’t even know what to say to that. It’s a lot of “he said, she said” I’m afraid.

Regardless, the behavior from Andreas’ wife was a major reason Max decided to quit the band. And under the weight of success from Sepultura’s Roots album, Max started over and began Soulfly.

He got the name for the band from the song “Headup” that he co-wrote with Deftones for their album Around the Fur. Near the outro of the track Cavalera screams, “Soul fly, fly high!”

Dana had a good friend named Mark Corona. He spoke to David Holthouse who did an expose on Dana’s passing and spoke about how good of a guy Dana was. Mark said that Dana was so good that he was “even nice to the fat, ugly girls in high school. Most guys aren’t close to that good.”

Yeah, I suppose they’re not.

He spoke about how Dana would blast heavy music but he drove like “a Sun City grandma” and didn’t get his license until he was 19.

As someone who also had some driving phobia growing up, I get it. The last thing you want to do is hurt people and knowing how many people die from gruesome fatalities every year is pretty terrifying.

Dana also suffered from celiac disease, an autoimmune and digestive disorder which causes inflammation of one’s small intestine when gluten-based products are ingested. That means that Dana couldn’t drink beer or ale.

A celiac may drink other types of alcohol but Gloria Cavalera stated that Dana didn’t drink at all.

There was speculation that Dana might have been driving while intoxicated because a beer bottle was found in his pocket and a case of Coors beer in the passenger’s side. More on that later.

But the characterization of Dana paints him as a mild-mannered metal enthusiast. Miles Graci and Shawn Thomas, on the other hand, were not seen as favorably.

Graci, Thomas and Wells all attended Shadow Mountain High but Dana’s girlfriend, Kristin, stated that she didn’t remember Graci or Thomas hanging with Dana before. Gloria Cavalera also noted that those two had never come to the house before. She considered them Sepultura groupies who were mooching off her son because his stepdad was the almighty Max Cavalera.

Dana’s little brother, Richie, remembers tripping over a phone cord and seeing that Shawn Thomas was on a phone call and holding a scrap of paper.

The social circles these guys were a part of were pretty close-knit so there were a ton of rumors floating about. A guy named Chris Pekor spoke to David Holthouse, the reporter who was doing the expose, and distilled the essence of the incident to this:

“Either Shawn or Miles or both [were] enemies with someone involved in a drug deal who wasn’t paid. After leaving a party that night, they were followed and run off the road, and Shawn and Miles knew who followed them and who ran them off the road, and the amnesia was a con.

“That’s what everyone was saying, but no one knew exactly where it was coming from. It was always, ‘Oh, so-and-so talked to Shawn at a party, and he told them the whole story.’ Or, ‘I know so-and-so, and they visited Miles at the hospital, and he told them they were being chased and shot at by these gang guys,’ that sort of shit.

“Knowing Shawn and Miles, I tend to think there was something foul about that accident, you know what I’m saying? Unfortunately, Dana had a lot of fake friends who wanted to have a connection to his family, and used him as sort of a person who could hook them up with concert tickets or whatever. Pretty fucking sad, if you ask me.”

“Pretty fucking sad” indeed, because more of Dana’s best friends came forward, Chris McDonald and Travis Demare, and spoke to reporter Bolthouse on Thomas and Graci. They said the two men liked to act tough, carried guns to intimidate and hung out with drug dealers.

So why would Dana be caught up with guys like these? As was said before, they grew up together and shared the same taste in music. And as you probably know, music can be a major bonding agent between people. All of my closest friends share the same tastes in music as I do, so I understand it.

Then you add the fact that Dana’s dad is Max Cavalera, it could be that Thomas and Graci wanted to be as close to the greatness as possible.

The other reason Dana’s best friends gave as to why he was with Graci and Thomas was because they were all out of town.

A month after Dana’s death, Gloria Cavalera and her daughter Cristina both received calls from a family friend who said that they spoke to Shawn Thomas. The identity of this person is unknown.

Thomas told this person that they were being chased by gang members from the LCM who erroneously thought that Thomas and Graci burned them in a crack deal.

Reporter Bolthouse received another account from a member of a Tempe gang known as the Las Victoria Locas. The identity of this person is also unknown. Obviously.

They stated that they got their information straight from LCM members. Two white boys ripped off the LCM in a crack deal. Someone from the LCM told two LCM wannabe gangbangers to terrorize the white boys.

The wannabe gangbangers confronted the white boys, flashed a gun and they all got into Wells’ car and they sped away. The LCM wannabes chased them down and got right beside them. One of the guys pulled a gun on them, Dana saw it and swerved right into a tree.

The wannabes did their job but when word got out that they killed the son of Sepultura’s frontman, they were blacklisted.

Remember the beer bottle cops had found in Dana’s pocket? Gloria Cavalera theorized that Dana had it as a weapon, in case he needed to protect himself. And given the circumstances laid out in these accounts, you can understand why.

But did investigators ever find out who the wannabe gangbangers were in the car that forced Dana to swerve into the tree? Yes and no.

A Stupid Act

Unsatisfied with the police efforts, Gloria Cavalera hired private investigator Jim McMinn to uncover the truth.

McMinn got a call from a man named Donald Barcello whose kid, John Barcello and his friend Mike Henry told him that they knew who was driving the car that got Dana Wells killed.

In the Shadow Mountain High lunch room, a kid named Mike Gibbons told Barcello and Henry that he and his cousin were in the parking lot of a liquor store near the intersection of 32nd Street and Cactus. They got into a confrontation with three older white guys with long hair who were “talking trash” to Mike’s cousin.

Gibbons acted as if he was about to pull a gun on them, which caused the white guys to jump in their car and leave. Gibbons and his cousin chased them down and said that both cars were doing about 90 miles per hour, which closely matched the police report that estimated that the cars involved in Dana’s accident were going at least 86 miles per hour.

Someone from the other car was about to throw a beer bottle, which caused Gibbons who was driving to swerve towards them. The other driver swerved away and rolled his car.

So why was Gibbons talking to Barcello about it? Barcello assumed that because his dad used to be a cop, Gibbons was trying to figure out what he could be charged with. It would’ve ranged from reckless endangerment at best to second-degree murder at worst.

When Detective Ripley, the original detective on the case, tried to talk with Gibbons on several occasions, his parents or attorney blocked it. But that wasn’t the end of people’s interest in Gibbons’ story.

In 1998, Gibbons was subpoenaed as a part of Gloria Cavalera’s wrongful death lawsuit and named Gibbons as a defendant. Gibbons apparently was deaf and could only read lips, so he had to write on what happened on that fateful night. I will summarize it here.

Gibbons denied witnessing Dana Wells’ collision. Gibbons was driving his parents light-blue, pinstriped 1993 Dodge Shadow late night when someone pulled out in front of him. He slammed on the brakes, yelled at the other car with the window down and beeped them.

Wait a minute. A light blue car with a pinstripe? The eyewitness at the beginning said the car was white with a black pinstripe. That’s awfully similar.

Gibbons pulled into the parking lot of Bob’s Liquors while the dark-colored car that pulled in front of him pulled into Jack-in-the-Box. Three people got out the car and yelled at him, with one seemingly with a gun in his pants. He would later say that it was two people in his oral testimony.

Gibbons drove away but the other car caught up to him. They threw something that hit Gibbons’ car but after that the other car fishtailed and he didn’t know what happened to the car after that.

Gibbons cannot remember what he and the other person in the car with him were doing between 10PM to 12AM.

This is a lot of people who can’t remember a lot of important details.

Oh, by the way. Remember when Gibbons said he was with his cousin earlier? Turns out he was with a kid named Eli Miller. Eli Miller was fourteen years old and is not Mike Gibbons’ cousin.

Miller really didn’t help anybody’s case. He contradicted a lot of the details of Gibbons’ testimony. Gibbons said he dropped Miller off, then went home. Miller said Gibbons spent the night at his house.

Miller said the car windows were rolled up when the other car cut them off, neither of them shouted anything. He said that Gibbons did not slam on his brakes or honk the horn. Miller didn’t even see any of the guys in the other car run across the street. He said none of them made a gesture as if they had a gun. Miller testified that he didn’t even see the other car start fishtailing!

This poor little kid seemed to be dragged into something that he either couldn’t handle or was poorly prepared for. Gloria Cavalera and her attorney doubt that Eli Miller was in the car with Gibbons.

At this point, Soulfly’s self-titled debut album had been out for a year and boasted an impressive and star-studded list of guest appearances such as Chino Moreno, Dino Cazares, Fred Durst, DJ Lethal and Brazilian pop icon Jorge Ben.

The album would be certified gold, selling over 500,000 copies and boasts the certified motherfucking bangers, “Eye for an Eye,” “Bleed,” “First Commandment” and “Tribe.”

I think Dana would be proud of his father, this album and everything Soulfly has accomplished.

The Other Side of the Story

So we’ve heard from Shawn Thomas, Miles Graci and Mike Gibbons when they spoke during their depositions, but turns out they had more to say.

After journalist David Holthouse’s article on the tragedy, Miles Graci’s aunt wrote a letter to the editor of Phoenix New Times, the publication that published Holthouse’s expose.

She said that Shawn was more Dana’s friend than Miles’ and that Miles didn’t know Gibbons. But she pointed out that Gibbons lived down the street from Shawn.

She denied that there was a drug deal or any gang related incident. It was just “stupid young men menacing each other as young men do.” She also denied that a detective spoke to her or Miles.

She also relayed that Miles will walk with a limp for the rest of his life and has spent hundreds of dollars on a hypnotist to reverse the amnesia.

In my opinion, her defense of her nephew didn’t do him any favors. It just made it so much worse.

And at any rate, the Phoenix New Times stood behind Holthouse’s article and reminded readers that Graci did in fact speak to a detective and that when further interviews were requested, Graci, Thomas and their attorney declined.

Then in the comments section of a dcheavymetal.com story on Max Cavalera that had absolutely nothing to do with Dana or the incident, a user by the name of Michael Gibbons wrote a long-ass post, stating that, “Unfortunately, Dana wasn’t murdered but was the instigator, the aggressor and was under the influence and caused his own accident resulting in his death.”

He stated that Gloria Cavalera continues to spread the lie that Dana was being chased by gang members.

This user just kept repeating the same talking points over and over again. He wrote 660 words.

Honestly, I just can’t believe that in 2015, on an article that isn’t related to Dana or the incident, he would write his — what’s the opposite of mea culpa? — his non mea culpa on the incident. Now Mike’s story is that Dana was the aggressor not the three — I mean — two white dudes who crossed the street to confront him.

He wasn’t even replying to someone else’s comment! Way to not look suspicious, dude.

Mike also took to the Deftones subreddit in 2016 to once again express his innocence and Dana’s guilt. Kind of makes me wonder, is he going to drop a comment here too?

Dude, please don’t. You have said more than enough at this point.

But to be honest, there’s no way of knowing for sure that it’s Mike Gibbons from earlier in the story. It could be a troll. And while I’m not making any accusations here, to me this is extremely stupid to do if one was innocent.

He also made posts here and here. If you scroll to the end of these articles, you see the same defense in the comments section. Who knows where else this person may have posted.

And at this point, if Shawn, Miles and Mike are telling the truth (albeit inconsistently with conflicting accounts and an unusually simultaneous loss of memory), it makes everyone else liars. It’s hard to believe those who have something to lose. It is hard to label those who have lost a loved one a bunch of liars.

On a more positive note, some of Dana’s former classmates also wrote letters to the editor of the Phoenix New Times, expressing their grief, remembering Dana fondly and hoping that the truth would come out.

One friend, Tom Reardon, wrote: “I am lucky enough to know the Cavalera family and know that their love for all their family and friends runs deep. Dana was also very generous with his love and his friendship. Maybe too generous, sometimes, but as we all know, there are many people who will do anything to feel like they are part of something “cool.” I’m sure that there is a lot more to Dana’s death than we will ever know.”

“I miss Dana every day. I miss my friend and I miss sharing this world with him. I feel lucky to have known him, and I’m sure that many others do as well. I just think that we need to let him rest in peace.”

I questioned if bringing up this story would be appropriate. I questioned if bringing up this story over twenty years later was preventing Dana from resting. But I believe that he is resting regardless.

Gloria and Max Cavalera host a concert in memory of Dana every year and Gloria posts old pictures of Dana and the family on her Instagram frequently. You see the comments talking about how great of a guy Dana was. People still care, but there were people who still didn’t know the story.

That’s why I’m doing this.

And in closing, I guess we can take some advice from Dana himself. You may not have known this but he wrote the lyrics for the Sepultura’s song and certified motherfucking banger, “Attitude.”

“The only way to get away: kill your pride.”

Written by

Former Edu. Psychologist | Current Writer | Constant Learner | “By your stumbling the world is perfected.”

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