The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is studying why an Augusta man’s body decomposed while it was in the custody of a state crime lab.
GBI spokesman John Bankhead said agents began an investigation Tuesday into handling of the body of Paul “T-Bone” Thomas, 49, who died May 11.
“We are trying to find out exactly what happened here,” said Bankhead, adding that policy does not allow him to discuss details of an open investigation.
Thomas’ family complained to The Augusta Chronicle last week after his body was handed over to a funeral home in such an advanced state of decay that it couldn’t be prepared for an open casket.
Richmond County Deputy Coroner Mark Bowen said Tuesday that two GBI field agents had interviewed him and the crime scene technicians who went to the home on Fort View Court where Thomas was pronounced dead.
Thomas was found unresponsive in bed about 1 p.m. after going to bed early the night before feeling ill, said his wife, Sheri Thomas. The family called 911, but her husband could not be revived, she said.
The body was taken to the Eastern Regional Crime Lab on Phinizy Road that afternoon for autopsy because there was no obvious cause of death and because Thomas had a history of prescription-drug abuse, Bowen said.
Richmond County Coroner Grover Tuten said crime lab employees had said an autopsy would be performed the next day – a Saturday – but that didn’t happen.
He said the medical examiner waited until the following Monday to perform an external examination and draw blood for toxicology tests.
The body was released that morning to Edward James, the owner of James Funeral Home in Wrens, Ga., and the coroner in Jefferson County. James told family members the body was so decomposed there was nothing he could do to prepare it for viewing. A closed-casket funeral was held Friday at Woodland Baptist Church in Wrens.
Bankhead said during the three days the body was in state custody it was stored in a crime lab cooler. Tuten, however, said the body looked similar to one left in a hot room for two or three days. He said he had never seen a body deteriorate so rapidly when stored properly.
GBI special agent in charge Mike Ayers described the investigation as a “preliminary review” to determine all the facts before taking whatever action is warranted.
“We don’t know at this time where the breakdown occurred, if indeed there was a breakdown,” Ayers said.