It’s been three weeks since 28-year-old Garrett Smith was found dead in a car owned by a local attorney, and with more questions than answers, his family has raised concerns with the Mobile Police Department’s handling of the investigation.
On Aug. 14, Smith’s body was found in the driver’s seat of a dark gray BMW 328i — belonging to criminal defense attorney Michael Wing — parked along the side of the road near the intersection of Dauphin Island Parkway and Magnolia Lane. Wing and Smith had been traveling together earlier that day.
Garrett’s brother, Michael Smith, said Garrett was on Dauphin Island the weekend prior to his death, which occurred on a Monday. He was told Garrett left the island that morning to retrieve his truck in Mobile, but Smith said he doesn’t know exactly when his brother left or with whom.
That afternoon, Smith started getting messages from friends and relatives about Garrett, who by that point had been taken to the Springhill Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
“Talking to the medic who was first on the scene, he said they did everything they could, but my brother never once had a pulse,” Michael Smith told Lagniappe. “He said he had been dead for a while.”
Michael Smith said there are a number of perplexing details about his brother’s death and a lot of unknowns about events preceding it. According to Smith, Garrett wasn’t wearing shoes when he was found, and despite having a 36-inch waistline was wearing size 44 shorts.
He also said Garrett didn’t have his car keys, wallet or cellphone, which he found unusual because his brother “didn’t go anywhere without his damn phone.” Plus, if Garrett was truly being taken to his vehicle, Smith questioned why he wouldn’t have his keys on him.
According to MPD, Garrett Smith’s death is not considered a homicide, though it is reportedly part of an open investigation. But after weeks with no convincing answers, the Smith family has started to feel like Garrett’s case is not a priority for the department.
“We called the district attorney and told them we were going to get an attorney, and that was the first time we heard from the cops, really,” Smith said. “We’ve tried to get [an autopsy report], but it’s not ready, and they’re saying it could be months before we receive a toxicology report.”
An MPD spokesperson said “at this point in the investigation, there is no evidence to support that the death is criminal in nature,” saying she couldn’t elaborate on any of the circumstances.
A report from the incident indicates Wing’s BMW was collected at the scene along with a laptop and “a green leafy substance believed to be marijuana.” However, neither Wing nor anyone else has been charged with any crime since Smith’s death Aug. 14.
Wing did not personally return calls seeking comments on this report, but John Brutkiewicz, an attorney representing him, expressed the “deepest condolences to the Smith family for their loss,” adding that Wing was “grieving also for his friend.”
“There’s a lot of questions out there, but all those will be answered by the coroner’s report and toxicology report,” Brutkiewicz said. “There’s no use in anybody speculating. Let’s find out what happened, and the questions that everybody has will be answered.”
Other than the “green leafy substance” found at the scene, there’s been no mention of drugs, though court records indicate Garrett Smith was arrested in 2011 for possession of a controlled substance. Brutkiewicz told a local TV station last week that Wing, “did not do drugs with Smith or witness him taking drugs.”
No matter what caused Garrett’s death, though, his family seems more concerned with the nine hours that passed between 6 a.m., when they were told he left Dauphin Island with Wing, and 3:30 p.m., when a construction worker called 911 after finding him unresponsive in Wing’s car.
Lagniappe has spoken with at least three individuals who claim to have interacted with Garrett on the day he died, all three of whom said members of the press contacted them before police investigators.
Around 8:53 a.m. that morning, Garrett Smith called an employee at BMW of Mobile, who says he was interested in trying to sell a BMW similar to the make and model of Wing’s. That employee, Mary Ann Castleberry, said she knew Smith’s father and had met Garrett at least once before.
“He was talking fast, which was unusual to me because he’d seemed kind of laid back before,” Castleberry said. “He said, ‘I’ve got a 2008, 2007 BMW I’d like to sell you” and said something like, ‘I can make some money, and you can make some money.’”
Castleberry disclosed the phone number Garrett called from that morning, which Lagniappe was able to confirm as a cell phone number used by Wing. The day after she spoke to the press, Castleberry said an MPD investigator spoke with her and downloaded the call logs from her work phone.
Around 9:27 a.m., security camera footage puts Wing and Garrett Smith together at Griffith’s Service Station on Government Street in Mobile. Garrett was wearing a bright red T-shirt with a sword fish on the back, and greenish shorts. The men were traveling in Wing’s dark gray BMW. After buying gas and a Powerade, the footage shows Wing’s BMW heading east toward downtown.
The owners of the store said Wing mentioned they were heading back to Dauphin Island.
Pamela Wallace, who is a certified nursing assistant, claims to have happened upon the scene where Garrett Smith’s body was discovered before 911 was called that afternoon — a story consistent with statements another witness made to Michael Smith.
Wallace, who lives near Magnolia Lane, said she helped remove Smith from the car on the scene and believes he was already deceased at the time. She claims he was already showing signs of rigor mortis, which typically occurs between two to six hours after a person’s death.
While she described a man about Wing’s age and with a similar white hair color, Wallace couldn’t say with certainty whether he was on the scene — just that “a friend of Mr. Smith was outside the car and was kind of hysterical.”
The Mobile County Communications District, which handles 911 calls in the area, said a 911 call, “came from a construction worker who was working nearby” around 3:30 p.m. MCCD Director Charlie McNichol said a second call was received from another man in the area, but it was transferred to the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department “before hearing what he wanted.”