Probe continues in Garner death

Police: Coroner’s ruling ‘extremely premature’

State police at Hollidaysburg investigating the death of Everett Pastor John Garner — whose body was found in April in a parking lot near Conemaugh Nason Medical Center in Roaring Spring — say it is “extremely premature” to declare the death a suicide — a ruling related Tuesday by Blair County Coroner Patty Ross.

Trooper Joseph Dunsmore said the investigation into the death is still “very active and open.”

The trooper’s comments came on the heels of a conclusion this week by the Blair County coroner that Garner’s death was not, as originally suspected, the result of a hit and run traffic accident along Route 36 near the former Bickel’s Surplus store.

State police initially declared Garner’s death was the result of blunt force trauma caused by being struck by a vehicle and that the vehicle would have “a high profile, such as a pickup or SUV.”

But, according to the coroner, a review of the autopsy of the victim by a forensic pathologist, showed injuries that were not consistent with a motor vehicle accident and that led to a reassessment of the initial ruling.

Ross indicated the injuries to Garner were vertical in nature as possibly being caused by a substantial jump from a building, rather than horizontal as would have been expected had the pastor been struck by a vehicle.

The theory posed by the coroner was that Garner had jumped from the roof of Bickel’s and suffered the injuries that led to his death.

Garner, 64, was the pastor of the West Providence Bible Baptist Church on Bunker Hill Road, Everett, for 24 years before his death the evening of April 17, just after his release from Conemaugh Nason.

He had been transported to the hospital earlier that afternoon after suffering a cut in his workshop.

He received stitches at Conemaugh Nason and then left the hospital to await a ride back to Everett.

Bickel’s parking where the body was found is in front of the hospital, along Nason Drive.

The pastor was released from the hospital about 6:30 p.m. on April 17, but his body was not discovered until the next morning.

State police were not available to comment on the coroner’s ruling Tuesday, but Dunsmore stated Wednesday that the police still have not concluded the investigation into the pastor’s death.

He said items were collected at the scene where the body was found and they have been sent to a crime laboratory for processing.

He did not specify what the items were that are being examined.

Dunsmore said that the trooper in charge of the investigation, Eric Glunt, recently met with representatives of the Garner family.

He said police are still “looking at every possibility that led to (Garner’s) death.”

He said it was a “disservice” to make a ruling before the results of the lab tests have been completed.

“We are absolutely still investigating this incident. … We have not closed the investigation. We are looking at every and all possibilities,” Dunsmore stated.

He said from the state police standpoint, there has been no determination as to how Garner died.

Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio, whose office is aware of the pastor’s death, said Wednesday through a spokeswoman that he could not comment because of the ongoing investigation.