February 19, 2014

Who was Ryan Shane Neale?

GBI continues investigation into Murray man who shot himself

Rachel Brown

— Ryan Shane Neale’s heart beat inside him for the last time Saturday night, but a part of him continues to live on.

Authorities said the 38-year-old Murray County resident fatally shot himself during a traffic stop in a convenience store parking lot near Bagley Middle School, and those who knew Neale said his heart was donated.

“He was so full of life,” friend Ashley Byars said. “He was who he was, and he didn’t try to hide it.”

Greg Ramey, Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent in charge, said it’s not clear yet why Neale apparently took his life after a Murray County Sheriff’s Office deputy approached the stopped van Neale was riding in after seeing a tail light out. According to an incident report, the deputy spoke to the driver and noticed the van had several passengers. As the deputy and the backup he called for returned to the van, Neale put a gun to his chin and pulled the trigger, eventually dying from his wounds.

Exactly why did Neale, who friends described as a straightforward, fun-loving person that enjoyed riding four-wheelers and helping others work on their cars, shoot himself?

“Other than maybe not wanting to go to jail in Canton (because of a warrant for probation violation), I have no idea,” said Detective Tim Bell of the Murray County Sheriff’s Office. “Nobody really knows. Even his passengers were surprised. They didn’t even know he had a gun.”

While Bell said no sheriff’s officers fired shots, the GBI was called in to investigate as is standard practice whenever someone dies during a police encounter. Ramey said the investigation is still in its early stages, but it doesn’t appear any of the officers did anything to cause Neale’s death.

Traffic stop

According to Bell and an incident report, officer Jimmy Mathis saw a Chevrolet mini-van with a tag that “looked like it had been altered” while he was patrolling Ga. Highway 225 South at about 5:30 p.m. Saturday. According to the report, he noticed one of the tail lights was not working. Mathis said the van turned onto Ga. Highway 286 and pulled off at ABC Convenience Store, which is across from Bagley Middle School.

That’s when the traffic stop began.

Mathis wrote that he spoke to the driver and noticed he had a passenger seated up front plus two more passengers in the back seats. Mathis asked for identification from all of them, a practice which Bell said officers often observe either as routine or at times when they feel something may be amiss.

The driver, Byars’ husband, Thomas, told the officer they had been out to look at buying a car.

When dispatchers ran their drivers licenses for warrants, Mathis was told Neale had a warrant through Cherokee County and that the warrant said he was “violent and to use caution,” the report states.

After Mathis learned about the warrant, he called for backup and remained in his patrol vehicle until other officers arrived. A sergeant on scene said to get Neale out of the van, the report states, and he and two others began walking to the passenger side.

Mathis wrote that as he reached to tap on the passenger window, he saw Neale put a gun to his chin. Mathis then warned the other officers and heard the gun fire.

Sgt. David Gowens, who Mathis called in as backup, reached inside the van and grabbed the gun while Neale was still holding it, but Neale fired again, according to Bell and the report. Bell said the second shot hit the center console, and Gowens’ hand was caught in the slide of the gun as he tried to wrest it from Neale.

No one else was injured. No charges were filed.

Preliminary reports show Neale had consumed alcohol, Bell said. How much Neale had and whether that played a role in the incident wasn’t immediately clear, Bell said.

Ramey said Neale’s body was sent to the state crime lab for an autopsy.

‘His heart will beat on’

Ask several of his neighbors about the kind of person Neale was, and none of them mention violence or anything close to it. They say he was fun and liked to joke, that his kids played with their kids when he was at home and not at his construction job in Jasper. They say he helped them work to repair their cars. They talk about how he brought the kid out in grown men.

“He was really nice to talk to,” said Nikki Camper, who said Neale and her husband were close friends and saw each other at least a couple of times a week. “He helped my husband (with work on a vehicle), and he liked working on his own stuff, too.”

Byars said Neale was so friendly that her husband joked he “made (him) be his best friend.” She said they saw each other nearly every day. They would ride four-wheelers with their children. Their families — adults included — played on a blow-up slide in Neale’s yard on a special occasion.

It didn’t matter that Neale was a long-haired guy from New York and Thomas Byars was a Southern guy. They hit it off. Neale was straightforward with everyone, Ashley Byars said. He told you what he was thinking.

It appears Neale and his family touched many lives. A fundraiser website to help pay for funeral expenses showed more than 50 donations making up $2,600 of a $3,000 goal raised as of Wednesday evening to assist the family and help pay for funeral expenses. The page, www.gofundme.com/6y0800, is full of pictures of Neale offering hugs, playing with kids and standing beside a pickup truck.

The fundraiser’s organizer, Britney Reis, states on the page she is Neale’s sister-in-law and that Neale lost a 20-year-old son, Daniel, in December.

The site states Neale left behind a daughter, three sons and his wife. It also alludes to both Neale and his deceased son being donors.

“Daniel and Ryan’s hearts will still beat on as Krissy (Neale’s wife) made the most selfless decision to help others in need,” Reis writes. “Daniel saved many lives, a grandmother, a mother, a veteran ... list goes on ... and now ryan will save a life also his heart will beat on.”

Efforts to speak with a family member in person or by phone by Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Probation violation

Bell said he didn’t immediately know what charges Neale originally faced that landed him on probation. A string of public records from various cities show a partial picture of Neale’s past, although whether he was actually convicted of all his past charges wasn’t immediately clear.

The warrant brought to the Murray County officer’s attention was issued in 2012, Bell said, and was related to the 2006 case out of Cherokee County.

Lt. Howard Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office said Neale was charged in July 2006 with burglary and assault in connection with an incident that left another man with lacerations on his head.

“He has been in and out of jail on probation violation numerous times,” Baker said of Neale. “I assume all the violation of probation (charges) stem from these charges, at least in Cherokee.”

According to information on the Georgia Department of Corrections website, Neale was convicted in Pickens County in 2002 for possession of marijuana and for having drug-related objects as well as for cruelty to children on an unlisted date. The site doesn’t specify the degree of child cruelty, a charge that can cover a range of acts from actual physical abuse and neglect to simply committing a misdemeanor crime in a child’s presence.

His incarceration history shows he was in prison for a few months each in 2002, 2007 and for about 10 months beginning in May 2009. Officials in Pickens County didn’t immediately return messages seeking more information on the charges from 2002.

In 2007, Neale was charged by the Georgia State Patrol with DUI, leaving the scene of an accident, failure to provide assistance, weaving, driving too fast for conditions and striking a fixed object, according to Daily Citizen archives. How that case was adjudicated wasn’t immediately clear.