Tom Sponseller found dead

Sponsellerâ??s body was found by Columbia Police Investigators at the lower level of a parking garage located at 1122 Lady Street shortly before 11 a.m. Tuesday.

COLUMBIA (WACH) - Richland County Coroner Gary Watts announced in a news conference Tuesday that it appears Tom Sponseller committed suicide.

According to Watts, it appears Sponseller suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

"He would have been dead pretty much instantaneously," said Watts.

Scott announced Tuesday that missing South Carolina Hospitality Association President Tom Sponseller was found dead in downtown Columbia.

A detailed search of Sponseller's office lead investigators to a note. The contents of the note have not been released.

Sponsellerâ??s body was found by Columbia Police Investigators at the lower level of a parking garage located at 1122 Lady Street shortly before 11 a.m. Tuesday.

CPD Investigators were following up on the investigation and found Sponseller in a double enclosed room at the lower level parking garage.

"The investigators just would not stop," said Scott. "For closure purposes they looked again, and Sponseller was there."

According to Scott, how the area in which Sponseller was found was accessed is currently unknown. By the amount of cigarrette butts near the room, it is believed the area was used as a smoking area. The room itself was not known for having traffic.

Scott said, "It's hard to explain the room that he was in, but it was at a distance."

The area where Sponseller was found was searched at least three times before his body was found including one search with cadaver dogs.

The Richland County Coronerâ??s Office is assisting the Columbia Police Department with the investigation.

"There was a weapon found, and it's just very tragic. We believe he took his life in that situation," said Scott "It is what it appears to be at this point. Columbia has to take a breath and remember his family at this time."

Family members reported Sponseller missing on Feb. 18 after relatives and friends tried to contact him directly and he did not respond.

Federal officials confirmed Monday that they are investigating the association's finances but said Sponseller was not a target.

Scott is not commenting on the association's financial investigation at this time.

The South Carolina Hospitality Association released the following statement on its website Tuesday:

"Our board and staff are profoundly saddened by the announcement of Tom Sponsellerâ??s death. I do not have the words to convey the sadness of losing our leader and friend.

Utmost in our hearts and minds are Tomâ??s wife and family, who were his pride and joy. They came first in everything he did. Our prayers are with them in this tragic hour.

Professionally, Tom in many ways was the face of South Carolinaâ??s $14 billion tourism industry. He guided our industry through good times and bad, quietly working for the good of every person employed in the industry.

The number of jobs he helped create in South Carolina through his work with the Legislature and many governors cannot be estimated. Suffice it to say South Carolinaâ??s economy is stronger, and tourismâ??s future brighter, because of his dedication."

"This investigation is still going. All of this right now is preliminary. The reason we're doing a press conference is we know how important this case is to Columbia, " said Scott.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)