Sheriff’s Office updates Gaines death investigation
Three months after a Panola County man died following an altercation on Mt. Olivet Rd., investigators with the Sheriff’s Office believe they have compiled enough evidence for the District Attorney’s office to present the case to a Grand Jury.
No arrests have been made in the death of Michael Gaines, 38. He died Monday, July 27, 2020, at the Tupelo Hospital, two days after he was admitted there on transfer from Panola Medical Center.
Investigators are still awaiting final results of an autopsy. A toxicology report received from the state lab shows that Gaines had drugs and alcohol in his system on the night of Friday, July 24, when he was involved in the Mt. Olivet Rd. confrontation and later hospitalized.
Capt. J.K. Smith, and his team of investigators at the Panola Sheriff’s Office, would not release the full report, but did confirm that the victim was “extremely intoxicated” when a blood alcohol test was administered when he was admitted in Tupelo early on the morning of Saturday, July 25.
He had been moved from Batesville to Tupelo when his condition began to decline rapidly a few hours after he was taken to PMC.
Gaines’ death was the subject of rumors throughout Panola County that weekend after several locals posted false information on social media sites. Many of the posts claimed a man and women were stopped by a group of teens, dragged from their vehicle, and beaten to death without provocation.
Residents of that part of the county were warned to be wary of people blocking a road and forcing them from their cars. Callers flooded the Sheriff’s Office with concerns for elderly drivers, and demands for an increase in deputy patrols in the area.
The rumors were so persistent that Sheriff Shane Phelps, with District Attorney John Champion, held a press conference that Monday in an attempt to dispel the false information, and assure the public that roving gangs were not attacking motorists on rural county roads.
“Our investigation has revealed that at no time was there ever any evidence that someone was pulled out of a vehicle and assaulted, or a road was blocked,” Smith confirmed last week.
Gaines was initially taken to the Batesville hospital when an ambulance and a tow truck were called to Crouch Rd. off Eureka Rd. in east Panola County that Friday night.
There, Gaines and a female companion had run their vehicle into a ditch, and emergency personnel realized the man had serious injuries. Gaines was reportedly unwilling to receive medical treatment, but eventually consented to be taken to the hospital. He was admitted at PMC with numerous injuries, including a fractured skull at the back of his head.
Gaines’ death and the circumstances leading to his demise remain somewhat of a mystery despite many hours of investigation and interviews of witnesses and others connected with the events.
Still, investigators have been able to piece together a timeline, and build a narrative for the night of July 24, based on findings from the autopsy and personal interviews with numerous people connected to the case.
What Smith would not say is why the department expects just one person to be charged, despite early reports of multiple alleged attackers.
“We have two individuals who have admitted to being involved, but when you look at the total picture we don’t know what happened from the time the first 911 call was received and our investigation could begin,” Smith said. “We have met with the District Attorney multiple times and we feel like we have enough evidence to charge one of these individuals with assaulting Michael Gaines.”
Smith would not speculate what charges a Grand Jury might be asked to return against the suspect, saying he doesn’t believe at this time he can positively prove what exactly killed Gaines, but is certain where the injury started
“I believe I can prove that Michael Gains was assaulted,” he said. The actual medical cause of his death, considering all the circumstances between the first reports of a fight and Gaines’ eventual ambulatory care, will be the subject of court testimony by experts in a variety of fields.
Phelps said investigators will continue to gather information and anyone with tips about the case should contact the Sheriff’s Office or call CrimeStoppers of North Central Mississippi at 800-729-2169.