Police: Sponseller Found Dead of Apparent Suicide
S.C. Hospitality Association President disappeared 10 days ago.
Update (3:30 p.m.): Scott Disappointed CPD Couldn't Find Body Sooner
Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott said he was disappointed that it took his department more than a week to locate the body of a South Carolina lobbyist who killed himself on Feb. 18.
Scott held a press conference Tuesday afternoon to announce that the body of Tom Sponseller had been found in a back room of a parking garage in downtown Columbia.
Sponseller, reported missing by his family on Feb. 18, apparently commited suicide and died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said. A 9 mm handgun was found near the body, police said.
"I'm really disappointed that the family had to go through this many days of grief," Scott said. "I can tell you it's going to make us take an even more in-depth look at how we do business."
Scott said his investigators previously searched the parking garage where they found Sponseller's body on Feb. 18, 19 and 25. Even with cadaver dogs in the area, they were unable to find the body until about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, with the help of a maintenance worker.
"The bottom line is that the location where he was was behind two different locked doors," Scott said. "It's hard to explain the room that he was in."
Later, Scott added more details about the room and said that police could not access it because they could not find a key.
"You would have to know where the room is to go to the room," Scott said. "It's not a room that everyone passes by. It's not a trafficked area."
Though police had previously tried to access the room, Scott said no one, including building personnel, had a key to the room and that a locksmith had to re-key the locks in order for the maintainence workers and police to get in.
"The investigators didn’t want to give up looking, so fortunately we had the maintenance gentleman there where he could access it," Scott said.
Scott said he did not know how Sponseller accessed the room and said officers had not yet searched his body for keys.
Sponseller's co-workers found the apparent suicide note in his office Tuesday morning, Scott said, and alerted investigators. The note ultimately led police back to the garage.
According to Scott, the note left by Sponseller referenced an ongoing federal investigation into missing money at the S.C. Hospitality Association, which Sponseller led.
Scott said police had previously searched Sponseller's office, but the note was not "in a plain-view situation." He declined to provide further details.
During discussions with Sponseller's family members and co-workers, Scott said he did not have an indication that Sponseller may have been depressed or considering suicide.
Watts, the coroner, said the delay in finding Sponseller's body did not cost the lobbyist his life.
"All indications are that if they had found him 15 minutes after this happened, it wouldn't have made a difference as far as the outcome for [Sponseller]," Watts said. "He would have been dead almost immediately."
Scott said Columbia police did not question Rachel Duncan, the target of the federal investigation into the S.C. Hospitality Association, but that they relayed necessary inquiries to her through other law enforcement agencies.
"This investigation is still going," Scott said. "All of this right now is preliminary but the reason that we’re doing this press conference is that we know how important this case is to Columbia."
REPORTED Feb 28, 2012 at 12:33 p.m.
Tom Sponseller apparently died as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to Richland County Coroner Gary Watts.
Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott said investigators discovered the S.C. Hospitality Association President's body in a lower level parking garage in downtown Columbia Tuesday morning. The garage was located at 1122 Lady St., where Sponseller's car was found.
The search changed focus Tuesday morning, apparently, when a note from Sponseller to his family was found inside his Columbia office.
Federal agents were previously investigating the S.C. Hospitality Association over missing money. Sponseller was not a target of that inquiry.