Originally created 06/30/00

Authorities conclude suicide led to crash



Moments before his car veered onto an emergency lane on Interstate 20 and into two parked cars, Michael Jones left a final message for his family.

"There was a recorded message that he left on his wife's answering machine while traveling down the road prior to committing suicide," Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said. "Without going into the details or the content of the recording, it was obvious he was disturbed about some recent developments concerning family matters."

Authorities have closed the case in which three people were killed June 22 in the three-car wreck on I-20 near the Appling-Harlem Road exit. Mr. Jones shot himself once in the stomach and once in the head while driving just before the wreck occurred, authorities said.

"The investigation concluded that it was, in fact, suicide," Capt. Morris said. "It appears that when he fired the fatal shot, he was traveling at a high rate of speed in the emergency lane. There's no indication that he knew he was about to strike this other vehicle."

Mr. Jones' car rammed the back of two cars parked on the shoulder. One car was occupied by the Rev. Virgil Conditt, 52, and his wife, Barbara, 51, of Augusta. The couple died instantly. Mr. Jones died six hours later at Medical College of Georgia Hospital.

The Rev. Conditt was pastor at First Apostolic Church of Augusta. His family has placed a wreath at the wreck site in honor of the couple.

Capt. Morris said the suicide ruling was made from evidence taken at the scene, an autopsy and the recorded message. A 32-caliber handgun was found inside Mr. Jones' car, he said.

Columbia County Coroner Tommy King said the wound to Mr. Jones' head was the catalyst behind the suicide ruling.

"There was a contact wound to the head," he said. "When you have a contact wound like that, it pretty well tells the story. When you put the gun to the head close, that's what we call a contact wound."

Mr. King said the autopsy suggests the first shot was to the stomach. When that attempt was unsuccessful, he said, the second shot was fired.

Although the case is closed, some questions surrounding what happened that night in June might never be answered.

"It's still really difficult to pinpoint exactly what happened other than the fact that he committed suicide," Capt. Morris said. "Whether or not he intended to strike this vehicle is an unanswered question."

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 110, or ccchron@augustachronicle.com.