Sheriff responds to fliers

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 4, 2002

Features Editor

Pike County Sheriff Russell Thomas said he’s had enough of the accusations stemming from the death of John Joseph Pastuch and is ready to speak out about the incident.

"When you sit where I sit, you have to deal with a lot of situations," Thomas said. "I’ve ignored this for four years, but I can’t continue to be slandered. I’ve gotten tired of explaining the situation every time these fliers are circulated."

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During the past four years, fliers have been circulated periodically in Pike County with accusations directed at the Pike County Sheriff’s

Department and the Office of the District Attorney, Twelfth Judicial Circuit, in reference to the death of Pastuch on Aug. 19, 1996.

The fliers allege that Pastuch was killed in a wooded area east of U.S. Highway 231 at the Coffee County line. The fliers also allege that Pastuch was killed while he slept in an open building with no locks on the doors

and the windows open.

In recent weeks, the fliers have reappeared, this time with accusations pointed directly at Thomas, accusing him of being present at the "killing" or of knowing who murdered Pastuch.

Attempts by The Messenger

to reach the family of Pastuch were unsuccessful.

Thomas said the accusations against him, his department and the district attorney’s office are false and slanderous.

"It is very disappointing that the family has taken this approach to this situation," Thomas said of the fliers. "We knew when we talked to the family of John Pastuch that they didn’t want to accept the circumstances surrounding his death. They were frustrated and hurt at

losing a child and I understood that. However, it was also disappointing to me, the sheriff’s department and all the agencies involved that the family took this action. We were extremely thorough in our investigation because of the nature of the death."

Thomas said he knew little of Pastuch until the Pike County Sheriff’s Department received a call from a member of the community on Aug. 19, 1996.

"I knew he was living in a make-shift shack in the woods, but that was all I knew until we got the call," Thomas said. "We were summoned to his residence on a dirt road off U. S. Highway 231 near the Pike and Coffee county line."

On arrival, Thomas said Pastuch was found hanging in the residence dead.


body was completely nude with a rope consisting of a hangman’s noose around his neck," Thomas said. "A bath towel was placed between the rope and his neck in what appeared to be action taken to prevent burn and abrasion marks."

An old abrasion and/or burn mark was noted on Pastuch’s neck, Thomas said.

"The body of Pastuch was hanging in a manner with his knees bent to allow him to completely stand erect and release any pressure that might be on his neck," Thomas said. "The residence was under construction and had not been completed although Pastuch was living there. The rope was attached to an exposed two-by-four piece of wood."

According to Thomas, a death investigation was immediately initiated by the Pike County Sheriff’s Office, the Office of the District Attorney Twelfth Judicial Circuit, the Brundidge Police Department and the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences.

After a careful examination of the residence, the body was removed by the Forensic Science team and, subsequently, a post-mortem examination was conducted, Thomas said.

"At the conclusion of the investigation, after scene investigation, interviews with potential witnesses and the autopsy, homicide was ruled out as the manner of death," Thomas said. " All law enforcement authorities, including Dr. Alfredo Paredes, the forensic pathologist, agreed and found the manner of death was accidental and the cause of death was from asphyxia due to hanging."

According to Thomas, the investigation indicated that the victim was participating in autoerotic behavior just prior to his death. Autoerotic asphyxia, Thomas said, is the practice of inducing cerebral anoxia, usually by means of self-applied ligatures or suffocating devices, while the individual masturbates to orgasm.

"Law enforcement officials have sympathized with the family throughout this ordeal, but the family refuses to accept the findings and facts surrounding this death," Thomas said. "The family instead has chosen to continue the mailing of these fliers as their way to respond to the loss of their loved one.

"They want to put the blame on somebody. I’m sorry that it happened, but our investigation was thorough. We can’t change the outcome nor can we change the truth."

According to Thomas, recent statistics show that 500 to 1,000 people die each year in the United States from autoerotic asphyxiation.

"Survivors of those who die by autoerotic asphyxiation are puzzled and troubled by what must seem to them bizarre behavior on the part of individuals whom they believed to be free of abnormal sexual behavior," he said. "Authorities believe the family continues attempting to cover up what is perceived to be an embarrassing situation, either from a lack of knowledge, misinformation or misguided efforts."

The sheriff said that accusations against him and his department must stop.

"We’ve always had the option of taking legal action and it’s gotten to the point that, if it doesn’t stop, the next step could be just that," Thomas said. "I don’t believe in suing, but I’m giving it serious thought.

"The Pike County Sheriff’s Department is held to high standards and we’re proud of our record and we’ll stand on it. When you do what we do 365 days a year, you’re going to encounter situations that are not gratifying and you’ve got to be prepared for

them. You have to develop thick skin. You have to absorb things but, right now, I’m tired of absorbing."

Any citizen receiving the flyer is asked to contact the Pike County Sheriff’s Office where the information can be turned over and efforts to cease this activity will continue.