As the Cavallari family waits for autopsy results, sources attempt to piece together what led Michael on his fatal drive in the Utah desert

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December 16, 2015 10:10 PM

While Michael Cavallari’s forthcoming autopsy promises to shed more light on his mysterious and untimely death, family members may never fully understand the circumstances surrounding his death in the Utah desert.

Kristen Cavallari‘s big brother, 30, had been missing since Nov. 27 when he was found dead Thursday, just three miles from where he had abandoned his car in a stretch of desert outside of Green River, Utah.

The details surrounding his death remain unknown, but his car’s deployed airbags have led investigators to suspect that he crashed into a large rock and eventually succumbed to the cold weather while searching for help.

Sources close to Cavallari tell PEOPLE they had long feared for his mental health.

“There was some sort of paranoia,” says friend Patrick Kuehn. “I’m guessing from what happened he thought someone was chasing him.”

Based on his wanderings, as determined by ground and air search teams, “you can tell he was kind of disoriented,” says Grand County Sheriff Steve White, who reported no signs of suicide or foul play.

Family members say Cavallari struggled with alcoholism, and while by some accounts he was regaining control over his addiction, he had ongoing legal troubles. When he set off on the fatal drive, he had just posted bail after being arrested in Orange County on Nov. 23 for violating his parole stemming from a 2014 DUI.

Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Peta Murgatroyd on the cover of PEOPLE

For more on the tragic death of Kristin Cavallari’s brother, Michael, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

“He was probably sick of getting arrested and thought, ‘I gotta get out of here,’ ” says a friend, who believes he was headed to Chicago to be with his mom and sister.

Friends recall noticing signs of Cavallari’s paranoia back at the University of Colorado, where besides for some hard partying, he’s mostly remembered for his sharp wit, charisma and polarizing political views. “He was against Obama and thought that everything was corrupt and owned by the Rothschilds and Rockefellers,” a friend says.

VIDEO: Kristin Cavallari’s Touching Tribute to Brother Michael: ‘You Had Such a Good Heart and Will Be Forever Missed’

Citing reports that Cavallari believed he was at one point under CIA surveillance, another acquaintance from college points out that the delusion is “not so unbelievable if you have people with cameras taking pictures of your sister at all times, probably being on your property frequently growing up.”

While friends remember Cavallari as always being proud of his famous sister, some believe growing up in Kristen’s shadow had negative effects on his psyche. “I think I’d go crazy too if my sister was a celebrity getting validation in the world for everything she does,” the college acquaintance says.

However, family members believed Cavallari seemed to be getting his life back on track at the time of his death. “It’s unclear what his state of mind was during this time, and that has them puzzled,” a family source says of the Cavallaris. “He had his ups and downs, but was turning his life around.”

In an Instagram tribute, Kristin wrote, “My heart is in a million pieces. Mikey, I could always count on you to make me laugh you will be forever missed.”

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