Augusta family seeks answers from GBI about decayed body

Friday, May 18, 2012 3:03 PM
Last updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 2:30 AM
  • Follow Crime & courts

The family of an Augusta man who died in his sleep wants an explanation from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation about the decayed condition of his body after it was released from the state crime lab.

Back | Next
Paul "T-Bone" Thomas was found unresponsive in bed on the afternoon of May 11.   SPECIAL
SPECIAL
Paul "T-Bone" Thomas was found unresponsive in bed on the afternoon of May 11.

Paul “T-Bone” Thomas was found unresponsive in bed on the afternoon of May 11 in the home of his mother on Fort View Court in Augusta, authorities said. The 49-year-old had gone to bed early the night before because he wasn’t feeling well, his wife, Sheri Thomas, said.

The family called 911 but her husband could not be revived, Thomas said.

Thomas said she came to the house while the coroner was still there. She and his mother were allowed to kiss him on the forehead before his body was taken away.

“At least I got to tell him goodbye,” Thomas said.

Thomas had hoped her husband’s sister and children would also get to see him one last time and say their own farewells before he was buried, but that wasn’t to be.

Thomas said she received a call from the funeral home director three days later. He said Paul Thomas’s body was in such an advanced state of decomposition that there could be no viewing and no open casket for the funeral, which was planned for today at Woodland Baptist Church in Wrens, Ga.

“He said there was no way he could do anything,” Thomas said. “He wouldn’t want anybody to look at him.”

Edward James, the owner of James Funeral Home in Wrens and the coroner in Jefferson County, said he was surprised by the condition of the man’s body when he saw it Monday.

Given the circumstances of the death, he had expected to be able to have no difficulty in preparing the body for viewing. But the man in the body bag was unrecognizable.

“The body was decomposed bad enough that I couldn’t do anything,” James said.

James said he’s never seen a situation like this in 20 years in the funeral business.

Neither has Richmond County Coroner Grover Tuten.

Tuten said Deputy Coroner Mark Bowen had sent the body to the Eastern State Crime Lab on Phinizy Road for autopsy, because Paul Thomas had a history of prescription drug abuse and there was no obvious cause of death.

Sheri Thomas said a back injury had led to her husband’s addiction to prescription painkillers, which ultimately resulted in a short stint in state prison. The two were separated but had been working on getting back together in the months since his release.

Still, she was worried that he had a prescription for pain pills again.

“He was slipping,” she said. “Still fighting those demons.”

Bowen said Thomas was last seen alive about 5 a.m. He was found dead about 1:30 p.m. and was taken to the state crime lab less than three hours later. The crime lab had assured him an autopsy would take place the next day, even though it was a Saturday, but for some reason the autopsy wasn’t done.

“They just rolled it over to Monday,” Bowen said.

The body stayed in the custody of the GBI until Monday, but no autopsy was performed. Tuten said instead the medical examiner chose to do an external examination and draw blood for toxicology tests.

The lab called the funeral home to come pick up the body about 11 a.m. Monday, but no one said anything about the condition, James said.

Tuten said he had never seen a human body decay so fast or so severely when properly stored.

“I’ve kept bodies in my cooler for 10 days and never had a problem like this,” he said. “This looked like it had been sitting in a hot house for two days.”

GBI spokesman John Bankhead said the body was kept in the crime lab cooler all weekend, but decay had set in long before it was in their custody.

“This had nothing to do with us,” Bankhead said.

He said Thomas must have been dead much longer than the coroner’s estimate of seven to eight hours.

“Decomposition is fast once it starts,” he said. “A cooler may slow it down, but it’s not going to stop it.”

Tuten said in his more than 30 years of experience with dealing with the dead he hasn’t seen a case like this. He said the photos from the scene of the death don’t show any visible signs of decay. The photos that James took in the funeral home three days later show a body swollen from putrification. The man’s skin changed from a pale pallor to shades of gray, green and black, and the skin was beginning to loosen and slip away.

“If they had just done the autopsy on Saturday, like they said they would, none of this would have happened,” Tuten said.

Sheri Thomas said the situation has been difficult for the family. Not only was her husband’s death unexpected, but many relatives hadn’t been able to see him since he was released from prison.

“His daughter hasn’t seen him since he came home,” she said.

The family deserves an explanation, said the man’s sister, Rosita Thomas, who lives in Washington, D.C. She said the GBI has not called the funeral home or the family to discuss the situation.

“I just want someone to take responsibility,” she said. “Just step up and let us know what they did.”

Comments (11) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
brendrowe
14
Points
brendrowe 05/18/12 - 05:20 pm
3
1
WOW!

YEA RIGHT, THIS IS HORRIBLE, I HAVE KNOW T-BONE FOR YEARS. ON TOP OF THE FAMILY HAVING TO DEAL WITH HIS DEATH, THEY NOW HAVE TO DEAL WITH ALL THIS BS, I KNOW WHAT HAPPEN, THEY ARE SUPPOSE TO PUT YOU IN A COLD PLACE UNTIL!!!! WELL APPARENTLY THEY DID NOT, ARE HIS BODY WOULD NOT BE IN THIS CONDITION, POINT BLANK, THE CRIME LAB ON PHINZY RD IS TO BLAME, GOOD LORD, WHAT A MESS THIS IS, TO DECOMPOSED!!!!!!! BECAUSE THEY DID NOT DO WHAT THEY WERE SUPPOSE TO DO,,, STATE CRIME LAB,,, WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF THIS WAS ONE OF YOUR FAMILY MEMBERS????? ALL I CAN SAY IS WOW!!! PRAYERS TO THE FAMILY AND FRIENDS OF T-BONE,

showboat
336
Points
showboat 05/18/12 - 05:29 pm
0
0
THIS IS VERY SAD!!!!!!!
Unpublished

THIS IS VERY SAD!!!!!!!

TK3
562
Points
TK3 05/18/12 - 07:02 pm
3
0
Questions need answers !

Evidently the body was NOT preserved according to law and somebody is trying to cover up.

Willow Bailey
20580
Points
Willow Bailey 05/18/12 - 09:45 pm
4
0
Yes, Yes, Yes

I would surely need some immediate answers for this. It feels disrespectful on so many levels.

My condolences to the family.

FLIPPED OUT
33
Points
FLIPPED OUT 05/18/12 - 09:15 pm
0
0
how long

How long was he dead in bed?

allhans
23645
Points
allhans 05/18/12 - 09:57 pm
0
0
dichotomy
32973
Points
dichotomy 05/18/12 - 10:57 pm
3
0
My guess is that some heads

My guess is that some heads should roll at the Eastern State Crime Lab. They probably parked the body in the hallway and left it until Monday morning. No way that the body was cared for and shown the respect as it should have been.

HighSociety
1840
Points
HighSociety 05/19/12 - 12:13 am
4
0
Dichotomy, that would be my

Dichotomy, that would be my guess on what happened. There needs to be an investigation. Completely disrespected. Find out who the responsible party is, and make them responsible for all of the burial cost.

Just My Opinion
5632
Points
Just My Opinion 05/19/12 - 10:44 am
1
1
First off, I'm sorry that

First off, I'm sorry that this situation happened and I can't begin to know what the family and friends are thinking/feeling. But, I have to think that the best course of action for the family and friends to get on with their own grief is to forget about this...for now...and just be glad that their last remembrance seeing this man was when he was healthy and alive! I never could understand why people insist on having open casket viewings. Deal with this now and then deal with the condition of the body later.

brendrowe
14
Points
brendrowe 05/21/12 - 10:28 am
0
0
wow!

@ just my opinion, deal with what now?? the burial? the family? the coroner" office? are you freaking kidding me?best course of action! it doesnt matter what you understand or not, rather you want a casket open or not!! in this case the family has no choice,,,, and of all things, you wrote forget about the condition of the body!!! you must work for the state!!!!! trying to tell a family how to deal with horrific situation!!!!

stillamazed
1488
Points
stillamazed 05/21/12 - 10:56 am
1
0
How horrible for this family.

How horrible for this family. Someone needs to and should be held responsible for this. My cousin was at the crime lab for 3 days and he was in perfect condition so rules were not followed somewhere. @Justmyopinion, I guess that is easy to say sense it isn't one of your loved ones. To have to have a closed casket funeral due to circumstances out of ones control is one thing but due to someones mistake is another. I don't blame the family for being upset, they should be and so should the responsible party or parties but of course rather than coming clean they will all try to put the blame somewhere else. Maybe they should check their fridge temp if he was even in a fridge.

Little Lamb
46022
Points
Little Lamb 05/21/12 - 11:55 am
0
0
Saving Energy

Do they turn the air conditioning off at the crime lab over the weekends to save energy costs?

Back to Top

Search Augusta jobs