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Undercover assisted suicide sting disrupted in Dawson County

POSTED: February 25, 2009 6:03 p.m.

The GBI, with help from the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office and the Cumming Police Department, arrested two alleged members of the Final Exit Network Wednesday afternoon in Dawson County.  

Claire Blehr, 76, of Atlanta, and Thomas E. Goodwin, 63 of Florida and Kennesaw, of the volunteer right-to-die group based out of Marietta were taken into custody when authorities raided a home in Dawson County. 

The pair was allegedly assisting an undercover GBI agent who posed as a Final Exit Network member and asked for assistance with his “suicide,” according to Major John Cagle, head of investigations with the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office.  

Currently, the two are being held in Dawson County custody on warrants out of Forsyth County for their involvement in the June 19, 2008 assisted suicide of a 58-year-old Cumming man.   

Two others have been charged in Maryland in connection with their involvement in this death.    

The GBI began its investigation into the Final Exit Network on June 30, 2008 at the request of the Cumming Police Department after the Forsyth County Coroner, a detective with Cumming PD and relatives of the deceased had suspicions that the death was an assisted suicide, according to GBI spokesman John Bankhead.   

In addition, authorities in Maryland, assisted by GBI agents, have arrested Dr. Lawrence D. Egbert, 81, of Baltimore.

Nicholas Alec Sheridan, 60, also of Baltimore, has been charged but is not currently in custody.  

All four have been charged on warrants out of Forsyth County with assisted suicide, tampering with evidence and violation of the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.  

Cagle said the undercover sting revealed that helium was the method the group uses to assist in the suicides.  

According to Bankhead, an individual pays $50 for a Final Exit Network membership and is assigned an “Exit Guide” to assist with the case.  

The member is then instructed to purchase two helium tanks and a specific type of hood as an “exit bag.”  On the day of the event, the member is visited by the “Exit Guide” and a “Senior Exit Guide.”  

The Senior Exit Guide instructs the member through the process, Bankhead said. 

“After the member succumbs, all evidence is removed from the scene by the ‘guides’ and discarded, as evidence indicated happened in the Cumming case,” Bankhead said.  

According to Georgia’s code on assisted suicides, “Any person who publicly advertises, offers, or holds himself or herself out as offering that he or she will intentionally and actively assist another person in the commission of suicide and commits any overt act to further that purpose is guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than five years.”  

According to its Web site, Final Exit Network is a national, nonprofit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt corporation, based in Marietta and is a member of World Federation of Right-to-Die Societies.  

Following the arrests, law enforcement in Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado and Montana began executing search warrants and conducting interviews in order to locate and obtain evidence relating to the investigation of the Final Exit Network.  

GBI agents are in each of these states except Colorado to assist in this effort.  

Other Law Enforcement Agencies participating in this investigation include:  

Forsyth County District Attorney’s Office, Dawson County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Cumming Police Department, Michigan State Highway Patrol, St. Louis Police Department, Baltimore Police Department, Maricopa County Arizona Prosecutors Office, Warren County Ohio Prosecutors Office, and the Aurora, Colorado Police Department.  

Also providing assistance are the Phoenix Arizona Police Department, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, the Forsyth County Coroner and the GBI Medical Examiner’s Office.

As the investigation continues, other arrests are possible.  

Check back to dawsonnews.com for updates.     

E-mail Michele Hester at michele@dawsonnews.com

 

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