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Coroner: Pastor’s death not homicide

After 4-month probe, authorities believe Garner took own life

After an investigation that lasted more than four months, Blair County authorities have agreed an Everett man whose body was found in a parking lot near Conemaugh Nason Medical Center in Roaring Spring took his own life — contrary to the original belief that he had been struck by a motor vehicle.

Blair County Coroner Patty Ross on Tuesday said her ruling is that Pastor John R. Garner, 64, of the West Providence Bible Baptist Church in Everett, died by suicide in April.

His body was located in the parking lot of the shuttered Bickel’s Surplus store on Nason Drive, Roaring Spring, during the early morning of April 18.

The store is located to the front of Conemaugh Nason Hospital where Garner had been treated for a cut on his arm during the evening of April 17.

Initial reports were that he was released after treatment for the cut about 6:30 p.m.

According to Ross, Garner had cut his arm while working in his shop in Everett, Bedford County, and was taken by ambulance to Nason in Blair County for treatment.

His wife, Joyce, was to pick him up and take him home, but, according to the coroner, a miscommunication occurred and he was last seen walking toward busy Route 36 to await his ride.

At first glance, investigators believed Garner was struck by another vehicle while making his way to Route 36.

Pennsylvania State Police at Hollidaysburg reported initially that Garner had died of blunt force trauma caused by being struck by a vehicle.

Police sent out a photo of a vehicle of interest that was in the area where Garner was last seen walking. Later it was discovered that vehicle was not involved.

Blair County First Assistant District Attorney Pete Weeks said Garner’s death was at first being investigated as a criminal incident, but after closely examining the injuries Garner suffered, police and Ross began questioning whether Garner had been struck by a motor vehicle.

Ross explained that an examination of the injuries show they were caused by a vertical fall rather than the horizontal impact from an oncoming vehicle.

The Blair coroner said she and investigators concluded Garner had made a

“significant jump” from the roof of the former Bickel’s store.

When questioned how Garner got onto the roof, the coroner explained that there was a wooden stairway to the side of the building and a series of wooden pallets piled high that would have enabled him to get to the roof.

Weeks said state police did a very thorough investigation and asked that the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy re-examine his conclusions.

Ross said, “We saw injuries that could not be caused by a hit-and-run.”

Eventually the three parties — state police, the DA’s office and the coroner — agreed that the death was by suicide.

Garner had been the pastor of the Everett-based Providence Bible Baptist Church for 24 years.

He was remembered for his work at Bedford County elderly care homes.

Stephenie Russell, administrator at the Rebecca Personal Care Home in Everett, said Garner and his wife would come to the home on Sundays.

She said the residents of the home would perk up just hearing Garner’s voice.

“Joyce Garner would play the piano, and he would sing and it would make everybody’s day,” she said.

A friend and fellow church member Doug Weyandt of Bedford described Garner by saying, “He was a wonderful man.”

Garner is survived by his wife, four children and five grandchildren.

His obituary, published by Akers Funeral Home in Everett, described Garner as a man who “loved to make people laugh and tell funny, unusual, true stories about life.”

Ross said that the case involved looking at “A, B, C and D” to get the full picture of what occurred.

“This is what we do. If we find something that isn’t that sure, we do something else,” the coroner stated.

State police were unavailable Tuesday to comment about Garner’s death.

Ross concluded the investigation ruled out a motor vehicle accident and homicide as the causes of death.

“It is ruled a suicide,” she stated.

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