An autopsy consultation report submitted in December reveals new findings and casts doubt on the original autopsy findings in the Shelby Comer case.
The Car Chase
As reported in 2017, Shelby Comer was a passenger in a gray Ford Mustang driven by Jackie Wayne Bean on December 23, 2017. At approximately 10:33, on that evening, Grundy County Deputy Michael Holmes attempted to stop the vehicle resulting in a car chase. In the B-Mine Road area (Tracy City), the driver (Bean) spun the Mustang around in the roadway to face Holmes. As Holmes approached the vehicle, the driver reportedly brandished a firearm and pointed it at Holmes. Holmes reportedly fired at the vehicle multiple times and the driver sped off, striking Holmes’ patrol car and the patrol car of another deputy on the scene. Holmes and the other deputy pursued the Mustang, but lost sight of the suspect. The vehicle was later found by another law enforcement officer in a ditch. Comer was found unresponsive in the vehicle and was transported by Emergency Medical Services to a hospital where she was pronounced deceased.
The original autopsy report, performed by the Tennessee Medical Examiner, listed the cause of death as a gunshot wound to the torso and the manner of death as homicide.
The Grand Jury indicted Holmes for voluntary manslaughter in November 2018.
New Findings Offer Alternate Cause of Death
At the request of Holmes’ defense team, a review of the original autopsy was performed by Edward A. Reedy, Ph.D., MD, and Senior State Medical Examiner, Alabama Department of Forensic Science. In the consultation report, filed with the Grundy County Circuit Court on December 4, 2019, Reedy discusses the original autopsy findings and renders an opinion contradictory to the original report.
Reedy concludes that Comer’s death was caused by an overdose of methamphetamine, not a gunshot wound as stated in the original autopsy. In the report, Reedy states, “Shelby Leann Comer was deceased due to methamphetamine toxicity before the bullet fired by Deputy Holmes struck her.” He bases his conclusion on several findings, among them:
- The presence of methamphetamine (3400 nanogram per milliliter) in Comer’s system was at a level to induce an overdose. The report states, “The mechanism of toxicity of methamphetamine is cardiac irritability (causing a fatal arrhythmia) and does not leave evidence of its action detectable at autopsy; additional testing is required to detect its presence in bodily fluids.” While there is a wide variability of the level of methamphetamine a person must consume to overdose, Comer’s level of 3400 nanogram per milliliter is “clearly in the reported fatal concentration range.” Other drugs found in Comer’s system included amphetamine and marijuana.
- The lack of blood found in the vehicle contradicts a death by gunshot wound. “Gunshot wounds typically bleed profusely when there is adequate blood pressure to sustain life,” explains Reedy. “In this case, there is no evidence of blood in the interior of the vehicle, which would be present if Ms. Comer had a blood pressure when the gunshot wound was inflicted.”
- Comer’s autopsy revealed a minimal amount of of blood in the chest abdominal cavities. Reedy says that as long as no vital organs are damaged, young, healthy people can tolerate blood loss of one liter. The amount of blood discovered in Comer’s chest and abdominal cavities equaled 550 milliliters and is “well within the tolerable limits of hypovolemia (a decreased volume of circulating blood in the body) in a person 20 years of age.”
Jackie Wayne Bean, the driver of the gray Ford Mustang in which Comer’s body was discovered, was originally charged with attempted 1st degree murder, evading arrest, three counts of reckless endangerment, DUI, and violation of implied consent law in December 2017. The charges resulted from the car chase on December 23, 2017.
In May 2019, Bean struck a plea deal with the District attorney after agreeing to testify on behalf of the state in another case. He pled to reckless endangerment and was released from jail on probation.
Less than one month later, on June 19, 2017, a mid-state manhunt for Bean was launched and the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office added Bean to their Top 12 Most Wanted List. Bean was wanted for aggravated sexual battery and false imprisonment of a child. On June 21, 2017, he was captured in Franklin County.
Mike Holmes is set to go to trial on February 3 in Comer’s death. The new autopsy report will be presented at the trial by his defense team.