The supervising attorney in the Hall-Dawson District Attorney’s Dawson County office has been found dead.
The District 4 Florida Medical Examiner’s Office in Jacksonville confirmed Thursday that it has the body of John G. Wilbanks Jr.
Wilbanks was being investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, with the cooperation of District Attorney Lee Darragh’s office.
The scope of the investigation wasn’t immediately known, but GBI spokesman John Bankhead said the death, which he couldn’t confirm, would close any investigation.
An official with the Fernandina Beach Police Department has said the earliest any incident reports about the death could be released is today.
The Dawson office was closed on Thursday.
Darragh extended his sympathies to Wilbanks’ family and called the death “horribly tragic.”
“Mr. Wilbanks was a dedicated public servant with a decadeslong history of effective prosecution and the administration of justice, and his life should be honored without regard to the investigation being reported,” Darragh said. “My entire office is very saddened by these events, and John will be missed as our colleague and friend.”
Earlier Thursday, before news of the death, Bankhead said the investigation had started upon the request of a superior court judge in the judicial circuit. He didn’t name the judge.
“Once we complete our investigation, it’ll be turned over either to the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council (of Georgia) or the (state) Attorney General’s Office,” Bankhead said at the time. “We’re still working on that.”
Darragh said in a Wednesday interview that Wilbanks was no longer on staff, but he would not elaborate on his departure.
“Presently, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further,” he said. “I may issue a press release at a later time, but for now, one would be premature.”
Wilbanks was involved in a fight Nov. 19 at a Dairy Queen in Dawson County, in which William Lee Evans, 45, of Jasper was charged with disorderly conduct, according to the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office.
Officers responded to reports that Wilbanks had been assaulted, and they pursued Evans, who was riding away from the scene in a car with his son, who was driving, according to an incident report. Evans was taken into custody and charged the next day. His son, Cody Evans, was arrested on charges of traffic violations.
Darragh’s only comment on a possible link between the incident and Wilbanks’ departure was that his office would not handle prosecution of the case as it involved a former staff member.
Times regional staff writer Michele Hester contributed to this report.