The son of a popular football coach who was shot to death last June spoke early this morning to a small group of legislators. Lawmakers are considering a bill that would require hospitals to notify law enforcement when they release someone who has been hospitalized for a mental evaluation if that person has criminal charges filed or pending against them.
Aplington-Parkersburg coach Ed Thomas was shot to death by Mark Becker, a former student who taken to a Waterloo hospital’s psych ward after a crime spree the weekend before the shooting. Becker was released from the hospital a day before the shooting, but law enforcement wasn’t notified of his release. Aaron Thomas, the son of Ed Thomas, spoke on behalf of his family.
“The long and short of this thing is our family is really just looking for something extremely simple with administrative form so something does not happen to another family like it did with us that could probably be prevented with one phone call,” Thomas said. Hospitals are raising concerns about the bill, as is a consortium of groups seeking reform of the criminal justice system. They argue hospital staff would become police agents if the bill becomes law.
Thomas urged legislators to consider the toll on his family as they consider the complaints about the bill from hospital lobbyists and others.”We ask that you do what is right and allow a simple solution to a simple problem,” Thomas said. “I remind you while we have not much to offer you in future or as a lobbyist firm, we have paid more with the death of our father than any special interest group could offer you.” Thomas was accompanied to the statehouse by his uncle and the former police chief of Parkersburg who investigated the case.
“What occurred on June 24, 2009, was more than just tragic and devastating,” Thomas told legislators. “What we found on that day, it was something that probably could have been prevented by better communication.” Thomas said his family isn’t casting blame beyond the “one gunman” who shot the popular football coach.
“I do not come here today just asking for the Ed Thomas Bill to be passed for me, my mom, my brother or extended family,” Thomas said. “I ask you to think of the 22 high school students who saw their teacher and coach shot and killed in a place they viewed to be a safe place. I ask you to think of the entire faculty, staff and student body that once again had their idea of safety completely destroyed for a second summer in a row. I ask you to think of the town that not only lost a school leader, a church leader but a pillar of the community. I ask you to look at the state and the effects it had on the hundreds of coaches my dad worked with or mentored.”
Parkersburg was hit by a tornado in the summer of 2008 and Coach Thomas helped lead the community’s rebuilding. “I think of the many life lessons that my father taught to not only me but to all the young people he worked with. My dad was huge on doing what was right and doing the little things, as it is the little things that make the big difference,” Thomas told legislators.
“I would challenge you with the same message. Please do what is right. Do not worry about the local interest groups or if it’s going to create more work for law enforcement or for hospitals. All my family and I are looking for is an administrative form to be adopted statewide for notification to occur between hospitals and law enforcement agencies. We truly believe it can be that simple.”
Thomas, who mainly read from a prepared statement, closed out his testimony at the statehouse with this. “We are not here to point fingers or cast blame in my father’s death as there was only one gunman,” Thomas said. “Our purpose and drive is to prevent another family, another community, another town for having to go through something like we currently are and what we experienced June 24.” Thomas, his uncle and the former Parkersburg police chief then quickly left the statehouse, headed back to Allison to hear the verdict announced in Becker’s trial.
Thomas explained to legislators why he’d made the trip to the statehouse. “Obviously with everything that’s going on, it’s kind of a busy time but I guess it’s important for us today to leave Allison where we’re hopefully awaiting a verdict or something from the jury, to come down and meet with you,” Thomas said.
The three-member House subcommittee met at 8:30 a.m. and Thomas spoke for about five minutes before leaving for the two hour trip back to Allison. The lawmakers met in private with Thomas, his uncle, and the former police chief before the public subcommittee meeting began.
Read more about the bill here.