Sponseller Discovery – Questions, No Answers

By Paul Gable

The discovery of SC Hospitality Association CEO Tom Sponseller’s body yesterday left many who knew him in Horry County absolutely devastated by the news, but also asking questions about the circumstances surrounding his death.

Horry County Council member Gary Loftus, a longtime friend and associate of Sponseller in tourism industry circles, gave a moving tribute to his friend as the county council adjourned their meeting Tuesday night in Sponseller’s memory.

Other local area tourism leaders spoke all day of the kind, decent, loving family man and friend who they had rubbed elbows with many times through the years as Sponseller led the state’s tourism industry interests.

Sponseller was a well-respected, well-loved man by seemingly all who he came in contact with through the years. No enemies, just family, associates and friends.

However, it is at the very least exceedingly mysterious how the body of Sponseller could have gone undiscovered in a room in the parking garage in which he worked for a period of 10 days.

Richland County Coroner Gary Watts called the death apparent suicide with Sponseller apparently shooting himself in the head with a 9 millimeter weapon.

Columbia police reportedly found a three page letter in a locked drawer in Sponseller’s desk at the state hospitality association offices. The letter reportedly referenced an ongoing federal investigation into missing funds at the association.

We have reported before on the apparent incompetence of the Columbia Police Department as it referred to the Doris Holt case. This, however, takes the Three Stooges performance of the department to new levels.

Supposedly Columbia police searched the building and garage three times before Tuesday’s final search resulting in the discovery of Sponseller’s body. Last Saturday, the search was reported to be accompanied by cadaver dogs from a Swansea based volunteer organization that provides free services to police departments.

What kind of cadaver dog couldn’t hit on a week old dead body in a confined area no matter how many doors it was locked behind?

Police reportedly searched the hospitality association several times, but it took association employees to discover the letter in a locked drawer in Sponseller’s desk. What kind of suicide note, if that is what the letter was, is left in a locked drawer? What kind of a search of an office ignores locked desk drawers?

Supposedly the maintenance man accompanying the earlier police searches did not have a key to the room, in which Sponseller’s body was found. The room, reportedly, included telephone and electrical wiring panels for the office building.

Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott, reportedly, tried to pass off the locked drawers and doors by explaining the difference between a missing person search and a criminal investigation – probable cause and all that.

Federal agencies have been investigating missing money, possibly as much as $900,000, from the association. Monday the head of the Secret Service office in Columbia told The State newspaper that there was a gambling connection to the missing money. Last week, the Secret Service reported Sponseller was not a target of the investigation into the missing funds.

Several business owners in the tourism industry told Grand Strand Daily last week that they wanted to put up a reward for information on Sponseller immediately after he went missing. They reported they were told to wait by SC Hospitality Association officials.

Gambling interests, missing money, an apparent suicide that goes undetected for 10 days because of locked drawers and doors, this just doesn’t pass the smell test.