Death investigation continues in Aberdeen

2013-09-20T11:08:00Z 2014-08-25T22:58:15Z Death investigation continues in AberdeenWENDY MITCHELL Ledger Independent
September 20, 2013 11:08 am  • 

ABERDEEN, Ohio | A dark spiral has continued in the life of former Aberdeen Police Chief Clark Gast.

In Aug. 2012, Gast resigned following a meeting with Aberdeen Mayor Harry Foxworthy.

Details of his resignation were not given in his resignation letter, officials said at the time.

Just over a year later, on Aug. 12, Gast's wife, Laura Jean Fizer Gast, 40, was found dead, hanging from a ceiling fan in their home on Bramel Drive in Aberdeen.

She was allegedly home alone at the time of her death, police said.

In the month since her death, accusations of foul play have been raised by family and friends of Laura Gast, including a recent appearance by her son Michael King, and friends Laura Branham and Nowana Bingaman on a Cincinnati news broadcast about the case.

In the broadcast, King is asked if he believed his mother was murdered and replied, "Yes."

No name of a possible killer was mentioned by King.

Branham insisted suicide was not in Laura Gast's nature.

Allegations of an assault on Laura Gast from the day before her death were also raised in the broadcast.

Brown County Coroner Judith A. Varnau referred questions about Laura Gast's death to Aberdeen Police Department.

Her cause of death is currently listed as “pending investigation” on Varnau's preliminary report.

According to Aberdeen Police Chief Greg Caudill, “Though it is such a tragic incident, the initial indications were that there was no criminal act involved in her death. There is no indication of a struggle listed on the coroner report.”

Accusations of a possible crime have followed her death, including requests for an agency outside APD to conduct the investigation due to Gast's relationship, personal and professional with APD.

Caudill attended high school with Gast.

According to Caudill, APD has credible confirmation Gast was at work and returned home at about 12:45 p.m., on Aug. 12 to find his wife deceased.

“According to what is available on the coroner's report, her time of death is between 10:30 a.m., and 11 a.m.,” Caudill said.

Caudill said he responded to the emergency call and was at the scene when the coroner was there, but APD Sgt. Matthew Nickolas has been conducting the investigation.

“He has been doing all the work,” Caudill said.

Unrelated to the investigation, Caudill said he is also aware that on Aug 18, Gast was arrested by Maysville Police Department, in Maysville on a DUI charge and traffic violations.

“APD arrested him on a traffic charge and it went through the Brown County court some time ago. It is not like we treat him any different than anyone else,” Caudill said.

With more than a month passing since Laura Gast died, and no final determination in hand, the case has been difficult on friends and family, officials said.

“The case remains an open investigation until all the information in the incident can be reviewed,” Nickolas said. “We really can't comment on much more than that, at this time.”

Outside agencies have also been consulted for inclusion and testing purposes, Caudill said.

“We have consulted with Ohio Bureau of Investigation about taking over the case and they have said we are doing what they would have done, so there is no need,” said APD Chief Greg Caudill on Tuesday. “We also have had cooperation from (Gast) in the testing.”

Cooperation was not forthcoming when APD asked for a warrant to search Laura Gast's work locker at Steelcraft in Blue Ash, Ohio, he said.

“Human resources was not happy we were there, and Blue Ash Police Department came. We wanted to do it right; get a warrant and preserve the chain of evidence. Hamilton County (court officials) said there was not probable cause to issue a warrant, so we could not get the locker searched,” Caudill said.

Also, though urging an investigation, Laura's family and friends were not always providing materials, like photographs, and phone records, to APD before giving them to media outlets, he said.

“We need to document them, so if there was ever a court case they could be used in evidence, and they are not willing to allow that,” Caudill said.

Though indications have been Laura's death was a suicide, Caudill said, a final report from the coroner's office has not been received.

“If this is anything but a suicide, APD has done a thorough investigation to follow up in that direction, Caudill said.

Gast was named APD chief in 2009 under Mayor Garland Renchen's administration.

Gast served under APD Chief Gary Hafer Sr. and landed in the middle of a scandal where he was charged with aiding and abetting for allowing officer Gary Hafer Jr. to engage in “sexual contact by use of force or threat and failure to report a felony crime” and dereliction of duty for negligently “failing to prevent or halt the commission of an offense to apprehend an offender.”

Charges against Gast were dropped in November 2006.

In 2006, Gast moved to Mobile, Ala., for work, then returned to Aberdeen in 2008, and accepted a job with the West Union Auxiliary Police Department.

Most recently Gast has been selling insurance from an agency in Maysville.

Laura Gast is survived by a son and daughter, and extended family.

Clark Gast is referring interview requests to his attorney.

Ongoing attempts to contact Laura Gast's friends and family have been unsuccessful.

Anyone with information on the case should contact Nickolas at APD 937-795-2214.

Copyright 2015 Ledger Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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