Tennessee lawmaker commits suicide

Thursday, June 20, 2002

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (AP) -- State Rep. Keith Westmoreland, charged with exposing himself in Florida and facing similar accusations in Tennessee, shot himself to death at his home, police said.

Westmoreland, 55, was found by his brother about Wednesday night in a bathroom with a gunshot wound to the chest, police chief Mark E. Addington said.

Addington said Westmoreland was to join his family for dinner at his brother's home and when he failed to show up, family members went to his home, the chief said. A note was left for his family, he said.

Westmoreland, a Republican, apparently had flown home from Nashville where he attended a House session earlier Wednesday.

He was arrested last Friday in Destin, Fla., on seven counts of indecent exposure. Authorities said Westmoreland exposed his genitals to several teenagers on three consecutive days.

The Walton County Sheriff's Department told the Kingsport Times-News on Monday that Westmoreland was walking around nude at a hotel pool and tub, but a chief investigator told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the report was wrong.

"What actually happened was that he was sitting in and around the pool with his privates exposed out the leg of his shorts," Chief Stan Sunday said.

The Nashville police department investigated similar incidents in March. Two teenage girls said Westmoreland exposed himself at a hotel pool. At another hotel near the Capitol, several people reported to security that Westmoreland was standing nude at an apartment window. Charges were not filed in either case.

Last September, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation investigated allegations that Westmoreland made harassing phone calls, some sexual in nature, to fellow lawmaker Zane Whitson, R-Unicoi, and Whitson's wife.

State Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, told WSMV-TV of Nashville that he spent time with Westmoreland Tuesday night and "he seemed down, but I never expected this."

Westmoreland declined to comment about the charges as he entered the House chamber Wednesday when the Legislature returned to session after a three-week break. He was seen shaking hands and chatting with fellow lawmakers. At least one of his colleagues patted him on the back and another hugged him.

"He worked hard in the Legislature to represent his constituents and the people of Tennessee," House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh said. "Keith took courageous stands on very tough issues."

Westmoreland, a 10-year veteran of the Legislature, supported tax reform, an issue that has divided the General Assembly over the past four years.

It was unclear Thursday whether the House and Senate would hold sessions or adjourn in honor of Westmoreland. The House session was set to begin at 10 a.m. CDT; the Senate, 11 a.m.

Westmoreland was released from a Florida jail Saturday on $3,500 bond and faced a July 16 court date.

Three teenage girls told police they saw the lawmaker's genitals through the leg of his shorts as he sat on the edge of a hot tub and pool, and smoked a cigar. Two of the girls said similar incidents occurred for three days, June 12-14.

"We didn't say anything about it because we didn't want to embarrass him," one of the girls wrote in a statement to investigators.

The girls reported the incidents on June 14 to hotel security, who called police.

Nashville police on Wednesday said they reviewed their case files after Westmoreland's arrest and found a March 26 report in which two sister, ages 13 and 15, reported they were in a Nashville hotel hot tub with a man who exposed himself to them.

The girls told hotel security and noticed the man leaving in his car. The girls wrote down the license plate number and it was traced to Westmoreland, police spokesman Don Aaron.

The girls' mother told police she did not want to prosecute out of concern for her daughters.

Westmoreland was never notified of the allegation, said Aaron, who held a news conference Wednesday to discuss it with reporters.

On Tuesday, Aaron said police warned Westmoreland on March 13 about showing his body after a downtown motel employee reported his guests were complaining that a man in a nearby apartment building was exposing himself. Police went to the apartment near the state Capitol and told Westmoreland to cover his window, Aaron said.

"Mr. Westmoreland told the officers that he had just gotten out of the shower and his bathroom window was open," Aaron said. "He said he did not realize that he could be seen by others."

Police said the bathroom window was in plain view of people in the motel.

No charges were filed because neither the motel employee nor the officers saw a nude man and the guests who complained couldn't be found, Aaron said.

TBI spokesman Brooks Wilkins would not elaborate Wednesday night on the allegations regarding harassing phone calls, but he said the agency's findings were given to District Attorney Joe C. Crumley Jr., who did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete for Westmoreland, a member of the House Judiciary Committee and a former county executive and chief sheriff's deputy for Sullivan County.

He is survived by his wife, Alice, and two adult sons. One of his sons flew from California to Tennessee to see his father Wednesday, said Sargent, who shared an office with Westmoreland at the Capitol.

"It's a sad situation when something like this happens," Sargent said. "We're relentless on getting a story and don't think about the person."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: