Father of man who died following drug-related death at Florida party speaks out

Published: Dec. 14, 2022 at 3:55 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 14, 2022 at 5:48 PM CST
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MOUNTAIN BROOK, Ala. (WBRC) - We’re hearing for the first time from the father of a University of Alabama graduate who died when investigators say he overdosed on cocaine that was laced with fentanyl.

Bob Gleason can’t help but smile when he tells you about his son, Tom. “Tom was an independent soul. He was a bucking bronco from the day he was born. He was an independent young man.”

The Mountain Brook man who is accused of providing Gleason’s son with the drugs is now facing criminal charges.

Tom Gleason
Tom Gleason(WBRC FOX6 News)

Born and raised in Connecticut, Tom went to the University of Alabama for college because he wanted to experience life on a Southern campus, and that’s where he met the fraternity brothers that he reunited with in May in Santa Rosa Beach Florida for a bachelor party.

Bob recalled Tom saying, “I’m the best man, I have to go, but it’s gonna be at this nice house –pool, we’re not gonna go crazy.” My wife Pam said, “Are you sure you wanna go to this thing?” And he said, “No, I’ve got to go but it’s ok we’re not gonna go out, we’re all grown men, we’re living our lives.”

But on May 14, Bob and his wife got a call that would forever change their lives.

Bob said, “It woke us up and I hear her say ‘Oh my God’ and screaming in the other room…what, he’s on a respirator?” Both then got on the phone with the nurse, and she said, “Yeah he took some cocaine or something and he has fentanyl poisoning and he’s on a ventilator - how soon can you get here?”

The doctor called Bob and Pam and said, “It looks like he’s got some brain damage. I don’t think he’s gonna make it. Do you want us to keep him alive till you get here?”

By the time Bob and Pam got to Florida, there wasn’t anything doctors could do.

Bob recalled, “They all basically say that’s it. His brain is swollen, and it’s pushed through his brainstem. So, I call my friend Vic, Dr. Vic. He starts crying on the phone. Well, I knew what the answer was then. So, we unplugged him, and just like you see in a movie, his heart sped up, then it was almost like a whoosh when his life left him. I’m not a terribly religious person, but there was a whoosh - you could just feel the life leave his body. And then that was it.”

Ft. Walton Beach Sheriff’s deputies are charging John Nabors from Mountain Brook with providing the cocaine that contained a lethal dose of fentanyl.

Bob said it’s taken months to begin piecing together what happened that night.

“At the end of the night, he said, ‘I have some coke I could bring to you guys.’ They had had some earlier in the day that was gone, everybody said that’s gone. So, he says I got more. He brought this stuff out and took the first hit. Tom takes the next hit and immediately collapses. The other guys take theirs; one guy starts giving Tom CPR he collapses, then the other guy collapses, then another guy collapses. So, you imagine this horrific scene with the four of them just lying there,” Bob said.

Bob continued, “Cocaine all my life was a recreational drug - you do some at a bachelor party - it’s like somebody saying, ‘Hey, you want a shot of Jack Daniels?’ and you die. That’s what this was. Can you say it would all be zero tolerance? Well, what would Tom’s wish be? As I said in Tom’s obituary, you should never, no one should ever, ingest anything - food, drinks, anything that they don’t know where it came from, period end of story.”

“I’ve heard about fentanyl strips that people can take - that they give them out at bars, concerts, and things like that,” said Bob. “Ok - do that, too. You have to be totally suspicious and suspect of everything you take from now on. That’s the world we live in. If that’s the message, I don’t have some catchphrase for it yet, but I really just wanna say - we’re normal people. He was a good guy, he was 26 years old. All his growing pains were over. He was sailing, and he got tripped up by basically, a mosquito bite what I call it - at the 99 yard line.”

The arrest of Nabors brings some closure for his family.

“What I wanted mostly, and what I was looking forward to so much because it’s taken a long time, was vindication for Tom. Meaning that’s number one. I think it’s almost good the way things drag out. When things happen, you want revenge immediately. The way the system works is, for the good in this situation, in my opinion, because time does soften things and it gives you perspective. And I think we have that perspective now.”

Now, Bob says he’s talking about Tom’s life and loss because he’s learning how deeply fentanyl overdoses have impacted so many other families – like those of the more than 300 people in Jefferson County alone who’ve died from a fentanyl overdose this year including 101 from fentanyl-laced cocaine.

“When you get one level down from ‘how’s the weather’? People have pain and tragedy that they’ve suffered in their lives,” Bob said. “And if we can be help to just share or listen - that’s a huge, huge thing. That’s been one of the silver linings out of this. There’s no more small talk - it’s heart talk.”

Jonathan Hardison reached out to John Nabors’ Florida attorney who called this a ‘sad and tragic situation’ but wouldn’t offer further comment on the case since it’s still ongoing.

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