Grooms' death deemed suicide; neighbor noticed changed man

bheffernan@islandpacket.comJuly 15, 2013 

William Grooms

BLUFFTON POLICE DEPARTMENT

The Bluffton man charged last month with stealing money from the Friends of Bluffton Dog Parks group committed suicide Sunday, according to Bluffton police.

William Grooms, 42, was found dead in the garage of his Bluffton Park home by his wife at about 9:40 a.m. Sunday, Capt. Angela McCall-Tanner said. Preliminary autopsy reports from the Medical University of South Carolina determined his death was a suicide, McCall-Tanner said. She declined to say how Grooms killed himself.

One neighbor said he had seen a change in Grooms in recent weeks.

Grooms seemed a different man than the "super friendly" guy that usually called neighbor Jim Fick's yellow Lab, Jake, by name when they walked down the street.

"Anyone who had animals, he was their friend," Fick said.

After Grooms was arrested on embezzlement charges June 11, he began parking his car behind the house instead of in front. Fick said Grooms could barely muster a wave to neighbors and would barely speak.

"To see someone go from being very active and very friendly to become very introverted -- it was sad," he said.

Grooms, who had been president of the organization since 2011, was accused of stealing as much as $19,000 from the group since June 2012, current group president Charles Bumgardner told investigators.

Before the money disappeared, Grooms had told the board the group was near its $40,000 fundraising goal, board members have said.

The group now has only $661, Bumgardner said last week.

Board member John Haley said he knew Grooms "had been fighting some demons for some time, but he was one of the most friendly guys I've every known in my life."

Neighbors said Grooms worked for a local heating and air conditioning company until recently. Grooms said he took money from the group's bank account to pay off gambling debts, according to a statement he gave police.

"At this point, I did not consider him a friend anymore," said Haley, who became a board member at the same time as Grooms in early 2011.

"I did not want him to take his own life, which is what it appears to be, but he had undone a lot of the work we had all done," he added.

Haley said he was also angry with Grooms because he put his wife, Amanda Mitchell-Grooms, "into this situation." Haley said he was one of several people who visited Grooms' home Sunday to console his widow.

Mitchell-Grooms, the board's former treasurer, was arrested June 25 on two charges of being an accessory to breach of trust, before and after the alleged theft.

She is scheduled for a preliminary hearing Friday in Beaufort Magistrate Court and could appear July 25 before the Beaufort County grand jury, according to a spokesman with the 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor's Office.

Two days after his June 11 arrest, Grooms reported to Bluffton police that he had been stabbed on the front porch of his Ninth Avenue home. He was treated for a non-life-threatening injury.

The department is still processing forensic evidence that was collected from the scene, but no suspects have been identified in the alleged stabbing, McCall-Tanner said.

She expected the investigation to be closed soon.

Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_Brian

Related content:

Grooms found dead, July 14, 2013

Bluffton dog park supporters say embezzlement scandal won't stop them, July 9, 2013

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