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Secretary of State Attempts Suicide

December 13, 1989

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Secretary of State Gentry Crowell, whose office has been near the center of a federal probe into illegal bingo gambling and public corruption, was shot in the head Tuesday in an apparent suicide attempt.

Doctors removed damaged brain tissue and the bullet lodged in his skull during more than four hours of emergency surgery Tuesday at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Crowell was listed in very critical condition.

″The path that the bullet took is not one that would kill one,″ said Dr. Joseph C. Ross, vice chancellor for health affairs at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Crowell was found by a son, Brooks, about 6:45 a.m. on the porch of his home in Lebanon, about 30 miles east of Nashville. Police said Crowell apparently shot himself once in the mouth with a .38-caliber revolver found next to his hand. He did not leave a note and police declined to speculate on any reason.

″He had a gunshot wound with the bullet actually going up into the brain. There was a lot of bleeding and it destroyed a lot of tissue,″ Ross said. ″It’s impossible to know at this time what residual damage there might be.″

He said doctors are trying to reduce swelling around Crowell’s brain and prevent infection.

Several Democratic legislators were waiting outside the hospital’s neurological intensive care unit, where Crowell was taken after surgery.

The reaction to Tuesday’s shooting was one of shock on Capitol Hill.

″It’s just terrible, a tragedy like this,″ Gov. Ned McWherter said. ″It’s just unbelievable to me.″

McWherter, a former House speaker, and Crowell were close politically when Crowell’s partisan chairing of the House Calendar Committee earned him the name, ″The Godfather.″

Lt. Gov. John S. Wilder, near tears, declined to comment.

Sen. Robert Rochelle, a Democrat from Crowell’s home town of Lebanon, called Crowell ″a private person who does not talk about things. He doesn’t talk about his problems.″

″Depression is a terrible thing. I didn’t realize that Gentry had anything bothering him to that extent,″ said House Speaker Ed Murray.

Crowell’s wife, Terrijean, and son Brooks were the only family members at home when the shooting happened, police said. Brooks Crowell heard a shot and found his father outside. The couple also have two other children.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents are probing the shooting to make sure foul play was not involved, said TBI Deputy Director John Carney.

Crowell, 57, was elected secretary of state by the Legislature in 1977 after serving four terms in the state House.

Crowell has testified twice before grand juries investigating illegal bingo gambling and public corruption, including last month in Memphis. He said then he had been assured by federal investigators they were not seeking an indictment against him.

Crowell has not been implicated in the probe, but one of his former employees is serving a prison term in connection with it. Another was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in connection with the operation of a Memphis bingo hall.

Twenty-two people have been indicted or pleaded guilty this year in the investigation.

Bingo had been legal for charity purposes but reports showed that fake charities often were set up to run the games and money was siphoned off illegally.

All permits for the game were revoked this year after the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that it was a lottery, in violation of the state constitution.

Under Tennessee law, the governor can appoint an interim replacement for Crowell or wait for the Legislature to do so when it convenes next month.

David Welles, McWherter’s legal counsel, said the governor would probably wait for the Legislature to act. The office will be run in the meantime by Crowell’s executive assistant.

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