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Dawson assistant DA found dead

GBI was investigating prosecutor

POSTED: December 19, 2012 4:00 a.m.

The supervising prosecutor of the Dawson County office of the Northeastern Judicial Circuit's District Attorney's office was found dead last week.

John G. Wilbanks Jr., who spent more than three decades as a prosecutor in north Georgia, died Dec. 13 in Florida. He was 57.

According to a report released Friday by the Fernandina Beach Police Department, the death was believed to be suicide.

Lee Darragh, district attorney of the circuit that includes both Hall and Dawson counties, extended his sympathies to Wilbanks' family and called the death "horribly tragic."

"Mr. Wilbanks was a dedicated public servant with a decades-long history of effective prosecution and the administration of justice, and his life should be honored without regard to the investigation being reported," Darragh said.

"My entire office is very saddened by these events, and John will be missed as our colleague and friend."

Earlier Thursday, before news of the death, a spokesman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation confirmed the agency, with cooperation from Darragh's office, had opened an investigation into Wilbanks upon the request of a Superior Court judge in the circuit. He didn't name the judge.

The scope of the probe wasn't immediately known, but GBI spokesman John Bankhead said Wilbanks' death closed any investigation.

In a Dec. 12 interview, Darragh said Wilbanks was no longer on staff, but he would not elaborate on his departure.

"Presently, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further," he said. "I may issue a press release at a later time, but for now, one would be premature."

Wilbanks was involved in a fight Nov. 19 at a Dairy Queen in Dawson County, in which William Lee Evans, 45, of Jasper was charged with disorderly conduct, according to the Dawson County Sheriff's Office.

Deputies responded to reports that Wilbanks had been assaulted, and they pursued Evans, who was riding away from the scene in a car with his son, who was driving, according to an incident report.

Evans was taken into custody and charged the next day. His son, Cody Evans, was arrested on charges of traffic violations.

Darragh's only comment on a possible link between the incident and Wilbanks' departure was that his office would not handle prosecution of the case as it involved a former staff member.

According to an obituary, the family held a private funeral service and interment.

Staff writers David Renner and Michele Hester contributed to this report.



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