Associated Press Writer
SAVANNAH — A medical examiner has ruled that a Georgia county commissioner who drowned near a boat dock after suffering a gunshot to the head committed suicide, the county coroner said Friday.
Police found the body of 52-year-old Glynn County Commissioner Tom Sublett early on Dec. 11 in the water beside a docked boat on St. Simons Island. His wallet was in his back pocket and still contained his driver’s license and credit cards. An empty gun holster and a magazine loaded with 9mm bullets were found in Sublett’s car nearby, but no gun was recovered.
Glynn County Coroner Jimmy Durden said in a telephone interview that the manner of death according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab in Savannah is going to be suicide.
That conclusion is bound to prove contentious in the coastal community that was shocked by Sublett’s death two weeks before Christmas. Authorities have spent nearly two months conducting a homicide investigation into Sublett’s death while offering a reward of $70,000 raised from fellow officials, friends and other private donors.
And some evidence seems to contradict evidence that Sublett killed himself. Durden confirmed Friday that Sublett’s hands were bound in front of him when police found his body.
An attorney for Sublett’s family said his wife and other relatives “strongly disagree” with any finding that he killed himself after leaving a poker game with friends.
“There’s no history or even a notion of depression in Tom Sublett. There’s no alcohol abuse or drug abuse,” Johnson said. “He was living his life in a normal way and proceeding with the normal daily activities and holiday season activities at the time this happened.”
GBI spokesman John Bankhead would not confirm that Sublett’s death had been ruled a suicide. The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, Dr. James Downs, referred a call for comment to Bankhead.
The GBI is in charge of the investigation, and Bankhead said its agents haven’t closed the case yet. He said autopsy results would not be made public until then.
“The investigation by the agents is still ongoing,” Bankhead said. “They’ve still got some other items to look into. We don’t want to get into the specifics at this point.”
Police said Sublett was last seen at about 10:30 p.m. Dec. 10 when he dropped off a friend who had ridden with him to the poker game at the home of one of Sublett’s business partners. The commissioner’s wife called friends and police the next morning after he failed to come home.
Sublett’s car was found about 4 a.m. on a bluff overlooking the Frederica River. His body was discovered about two hours later at a marina about 150 yards away.
A list of other evidence gathered included a holster found in the front of Sublett’s car and a magazine loaded with 9mm ammunition in the center console. In the back seat, police found two empty prescription bottles.
Police also recovered five black zip-tie straps from the scene, according to the police report, but authorities have declined to give further details.
Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering said last month that while the death was being investigated as a homicide, police had not ruled out suicide as a possibility. Doering was not at his office and did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Friday afternoon.
Sublett died as he was wrapping up his first and only term on the seven-member Glynn County commission. He had decided not to seek re-election and his term expired Dec. 31. A former board chamber of the local Chamber of Commerce, he sold commercial real-estate in the area.
Johnson, the Sublett family’s attorney, said relatives knew of no financial stress that might have caused Sublett to harm himself. He said the family feared the medical examiner’s findings would prompt investigators to close the case prematurely.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions related to the evidence,” Johnson said. “The family’s beliefs aren’t based on any naive notions.”