ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - The family of Tom Sublett, the Glynn County commissioner whose body was found in the water by a St. Simons Island boat ramp in December, says they will contest the coroner's ruling that he killed himself.
In an preliminary autopsy report released last year, Sublett's cause of death was listed drowning after a gunshot to the head, but it was left to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to determine whether the death was homicide or suicide. Last month, Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering said that either remains a possibility.
On Friday, Glynn County Coroner Jimmy Durden says the GBI's Crime Lab in Savannah has ruled the 58-year-old's death was a suicide.
Attorney Mark Johnson, who was retained by the Sublett's death, said the family will contest the finding because they don't believe he killed himself and it will chill efforts to find his killer.
"Earlier this week (we) were informed the report was likely to be issued as early as today and that the probable finding of that report would be that Mr. Sublett's death was consistent with suicide," Johnson said. "The family strongly disagrees with that conclusion."
While documents released show police found an empty holster and unfired bullets belonging to Sublett inside his car about 150 yards from where the his dead body was discovered by a docked boat, police have not reported finding a gun despite multiple searches of the area and the water. The evidence report also indicated that Sublett's wrists were bound in front of his chest.
The report by Glynn County police also says two empty prescription bottles were collected from Sublett's car, which was found by friends at Gascoigne Bluff Park after he failed to return home from a poker game with friends.
Police said Sublett, 52, 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.
The report released by Glynn County police in January said Sublett's wallet was recovered with his driver's license and credit cards still inside. Doering said the wallet was in the commissioner's back pocket.
The police report contained a list of other evidence gathered that includes a holster found in the front of Sublett's car and a magazine loaded with 9mm ammunition in the center console. Two other calibers of handgun bullets -- .38 special and .357 magnum -- also were recovered from the car, and Doering said they belonged to the commissioner.
Investigators also took Sublett's laptop and personal papers found in his computer bag -- items that also were in the car.
Sublett, who sold commercial real estate, was finishing his first and only term on the seven-member Glynn County Commission at the time of his death. His term expired Dec. 31, and he had decided not to seek re-election.
Officials in Glynn County joined by some private citizens had offering $70,000 in reward money for information leading to an arrest or conviction if Sublett's death is found to have resulted from foul play.
The family attorney said they want that search continue, because, regardless of what the coroner ruled, there was no reason Sublett would have killed himself. He is planning to request a coroner's inquest -- a hearing before a judge about the findings.
"There was no history of depression, no history of alcohol drug abuse," Johnson said of Sublett. "As a matter of fact, there was no blood alcohol found in his body."
The cause-of-death ruling brings no closure to the family, just adds to their pain.
"They're in shock. They're grieving, and this has left a tremendous hole in their lives ... and I doubt that will ever heal," Johnson said.
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