AP NEWS

Coroner releases suicide findings

March 29, 2019

The Allen County coroner’s office issued a lengthy explanation Thursday of what it says was the March 14 suicide of a 21-year-old North Carolina man, but his family and civil rights activists from his home state still have questions.

John Barnett, activist with True Healing Under God in Charlotte, North Carolina, held a news conference there Thursday. He said the man’s family retained the services of civil rights attorney Charles Everage to represent them.

The county coroner’s office said it released the four-page statement to counter inaccurate reports of the man’s death on social media, including Facebook and Twitter. Social media also included comments on Instagram by Atlanta rapper T.I. The Journal Gazette does not usually name those who commit suicide.

The man’s hands were not tied or bound, nor was his neck severed from ear to ear, Michael Burris, chief investigator at the coroner’s office, said.

Because of the crime scene investigation and physical examination, no autopsy was requested, Burris said. It is up to the family to request an autopsy once the body arrived in North Carolina, he added. The funeral was Wednesday, Barnett said.

The man was found in a semi parked at Premier Truck Rental at 9138 Bluffton Road at 11:38 a.m. March 14, Burris said.

The truck left Falls Creek, Pennsylvania, about 1:20 p.m. March 13 for a delivery in Fort Wayne. It arrived in Fort Wayne around 7 p.m. that day. The route was verified through a GPS unit on the semi, the coroner’s report stated.

A video camera at Premier with a date, but no time stamp, shows the driver’s side of the semi. The camera, which is motion-activated, did not appear to record anything between the time the truck arrived and the time the body was discovered, the report said.

An employee of the truck rental company said the truck was parked at the business at 6:50 a.m. March 14 when he arrived for work. The employee tried to contact the man at 7:45 a.m. by knocking on the door of the truck, the report said.

By 11:35 a.m., the employee found the man and immediately called emergency services, the report said.

The man was found hanged in the sleeper compartment of the truck. A physical exam did not reveal marks or injuries on the hands, wrist or face. There was no blood. Marks around the man’s neck matched the material used in the hanging, though Burris would not say what the material was.

“In my understanding, a portion of his load was to be delivered there (Fort Wayne), but there was a change in the delivery and he was not supposed to go there (Fort Wayne), but he did not know that at the time. We are working on getting it verified through the transit company,” Burris said.

As to the family’s allegation that the neck looked as though someone else had tied a rope around it, practically decapitating the man, Burris said the weight of the body pulls the ligature into the skin.

Two funeral directors completed physical examinations of the man’s body listing injuries as abrasions on the front side of the neck. No other injuries were listed, Burris said.

Barnett also said a Fort Wayne police detective told the family he hadn’t seen the video supplied by the truck rental company. Burris said both the police and the coroner’s officer received copies of the video.

A Premier spokesman said Thursday his company feels terrible about the incident, but declined to comment. The company rents out pickups and delivery trucks, but not semis, he said, noting it is not a truck stop.  

jduffy@jg.net