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Father of Alabama grad killed by fentanyl at Florida bachelor party hopes son’s death saves others 12/2/2022 Carol Robinson,
Thomas Gleason, 26, died from a lethal dose of fentanyl during a bachelor trip in Florida with a group of fraternity brothers from the University of Alabama. © Carol Robinson | crobinson/ Thomas Gleason, 26, died from a lethal dose of fentanyl during a bachelor trip in Florida with a group of fraternity brothers from the University of Alabama.

A University of Alabama graduate who died of fentanyl poisoning after attending a bachelor party in Florida’s Santa Rosa Beach is described as an athlete, a chef, a comedian, and inspirational truth teller.

Thomas Gleason, 26, died in May, days after collapsing during a weekend with friends.

“He was a man who was older than his years,’’ said his father, Bob Gleason, in his son’s obituary. “A man who though only 26, lived a life fuller than many people live in 76 years.”

“He came into this world as a bucking bronco and he left it in the same fashion,’’ Bob wrote. “But most importantly, he left caught up with his, ‘I love yous,’ with all those who had the pleasure to know him.”

Tom left a lasting impression in life, and now his father hopes he will also leave a lasting impression in death.

“If any good can come of this fentanyl poisoning, if it could save one life going forward, I’m all for it,’’ Bob said.

On Wednesday, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office announced the arrest of 26-year-old John David “J.D.” Nabors, a Mountain Brook resident, in connection with Tom’s death during the May 14 bachelor party in Santa Rosa Beach.

The underlying cause of Tom’s death “was a lethal dose of fentanyl which was found in narcotics directly provided” by Nabors, the sheriff’s office said.

A grand jury indicted Nabors on felony charges of distributing a controlled substance causing death. Nabors turned himself in to the Walton County Jail Wednesday morning and was released Thursday after posting $25,000 bond.

No one answered the phone at a number listed for Nabors in court records. Florida records did not list an attorney for Nabors.

Nabors has a court appearance scheduled for Jan. 17, records state.

Bob spoke with about the events he said took his son’s life in hopes that others will learn from Tom’s death.

Tom, who was from Connecticut, jumped into a whole different world when he chose to attend the University of Alabama, his father said.

“He wanted to prove to himself that he had the skills to succeed no matter where he landed in life,’’ Bob wrote in the obituary.

“When he realized that joining a fraternity was an essential part of a big southern school experience, he knew he had to fix the problem of not knowing a soul who could sponsor him.”

“To solve it, he simply knocked on the front door of Phi Delta Theta and through his charm and wit,’’ Bob said, “gained admission even though he later learned that should have been impossible.”

It was in Phi Delt that Tom would meet the friends with whom he attended the bachelor party nearly seven months ago. Tom was set to be the groom’s best man, and the group – mostly from Georgia and Alabama – settled in for a weekend of fun in the sun.

Bob said Tom hadn’t had a drink in 10 months prior to the trip. He had a great job and was succeeding in life.

“They all were,’’ he said of the group on the trip. “These guys were making it in the world.”

On May 15, one of the men on the trip brought out some cocaine. “They all used it, and it was gone,’’ Bob said.

Later that night, the party continued at their rental house on Sand Dunes Road. There were drinks, and there were strippers – nothing unusual for a bachelor party.

According to Bob, Nabors went out to his car and returned with a cigar box containing illicit drugs. He said Nabors snorted a line of the drug, and then others did as well.

“Tom went next and immediately collapsed,’’ Bob said.

According to sheriff’s officials, first responders arrived and began to give Tom CPR and administered an AED. While doing so, three more men collapsed and became unresponsive.

“It was a horrific sight,’’ Bob said he was told.

All four were transported to Sacred Heart hospital in Pensacola.

Bob and his wife, Pam, received the news early Sunday, May 15. “We got this terrible call…how soon can you get here?’’ he recalled. “Tom’s brain was starved of oxygen.”

Bob and Pam had to take to multiple flights to get from Connecticut to Florida.

“By the time we got to Charlotte (for a layover), the doctor was like, ‘Do you want us to keep him alive?’ That’s how it was,’’ Bob said.

When they arrived at Sacred Heart, Tom was on a ventilator. “We took him off (Monday) morning and he was gone within 10 minutes,’’ he said.

Tom’s three friends spent several days in ICU. The groom, whose engagement was called off immediately after the ill-fated bachelor trip, did not snort the drug and was not among those hospitalized, Bob said.

Bob at first thought the guys had just ended up with a bad batch of drugs. But he said he believes Nabors knew he was giving his friends fentanyl – which law enforcement says takes only a very small amount to kill.

“When the toxicology came back, Tom wasn’t even drunk. He had his wits about him and so did everybody else,’’ Bob said. “But the fentanyl level was of the charts.”

“It wasn’t like these guys went down the street and found a dealer. They trust him because he was their fraternity brother,’’ Bob said. “They got it from a trusted friend, and this is what happened.”

“Our Criminal Investigations Bureau was able to tie the deadly dose Gleason took to Nabors,’’ Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson said in announcing Nabors’ arrest.

“This case is tragic and certainly one we want to bring to a successful prosecution for Thomas’ family.”

Bob said he knew little about fentanyl before his son’s death.

“I didn’t know anybody who had tried it and Tom didn’t know anybody who had tried it,’’ he said. “It was something that wasn’t in his sphere.”

According to the CDC, 107,375 people died of drug overdoses and drug poisonings in the 12-month period ending in January 2022.

Of those, 67 percent involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Many users, authorities say, were unaware they were actually taking fentanyl, and it’s particularly dangerous for someone who doesn’t have a tolerance to opioids.

“Fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered,’’ DEA Administrator Ann Milgram has said. “Fentanyl is everywhere.”

Bob contends his son’s death was the result of fentanyl poisoning, not overdose.

“If you say fentanyl death, it’s going to look like a drug overdose and that’s not what happened. This was a poisoning,’’ Bob said.

“Fentanyl poisoning can happen anywhere. You can get it off a joint. You can get it from an Adderall. I liken it you go into a bar or stag party, and you order a shot of Jack Daniels, you take the shot, and you die from it. That’s what happened here.”

He said he has not heard from Nabors or his family since Tom’s death, which he called “disappointing.”

Nabors’ arrest, he said, doesn’t stop the pain or the loss, but does bring some closure to the grieving family. More importantly, he said, he believes it vindicates his son’s name.

“You read the obituary, see he was 26 years old and (think) oh, Tom must have been a (expletive) up,’’ Bob said. “That wasn’t the case. So, I feel a good sense of vindication.”

“When it first happened, I thought it was an accident, they just got a bad batch and I didn’t want J.D. to go rot in jail,’’ Bob said. “I wanted to track down the dealers he bought it from and go up the chain.”

Bob said he believes Nabors bought and gave his friends “straight fentanyl.”

“My hope for J.D. is for him to pay restitution for everyone’s medical bills and he’s got to do some time in jail because he took a life. He’s got to pay the penalty for that,’’ he said.

“But then I hope he comes out and maybe becomes a counselor or a witness to what he caused and what can happen,’’ he said.

The loss of Tom has been tough on his friends and family, who believe he had been destined for great things.

After graduating from UA, he began working as a marketing director for the NY/CT franchise of Go Minis portable storage units.

“After less than a year on the job, unforeseen events thrust him into also becoming the general manager,’’ Bob said. “Tom rose to the occasion and was the driver in tripling the business over the next three years.”

After four years, Tom decided to venture out on his own. He and a child friend in March founded, a real estate firm that discovers and develops ugly homes in nice neighborhoods throughout Connecticut.

“Although officially in business for only three months, they had already tripled their projections,’’ Bob said.

He was launched in life. He was successful. He was doing fantastic,’’ Bob said. “I would call him Elon Musk – he was that driven.”

That’s why his death – and the cause of it – is so hard to take.

“It’s like he got tripped up by an encephalitis bite on the 99-yard line,’’ Bob said. “That’s how weird this was.”

He said it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

“It would surely be his wish,’’ Bob said, “that his passing serves as a lifelong mandate to all those that knew him, as well as all those that they in turn love, to never drink, eat, or ingest anything whose origin cannot be identified.”

“The more people that get the message,’’ he said, “the better.”

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