Saturday, February 11th, 2012
Email from December, 2000
Subject: The mystery surrounding Tom’s death
I don’t wish to be morbid–or dwell on negativity, that’s not really the focus of this forum. However I feel like the facts of Tom’s untimely passing need to be shared for those who aren’t privy to the details–no matter how painful. This is my account from what I gathered via Tom’s Mother. The letter below was sent out to friends of mine back in late 2000.To the Gallison family: If there are inaccuracies–please let me know so I can correct them.This is a bit long so print and read at your leisure….
All—I just received a Christmas card from Tom’s mother. She sent a picture of the stone that was just recently placed in Fairview. It is fairly large, black and inscribed simply: TOM GALLISON —-FEB 1969 ~FEB 2000. In the lower right corner: STEUBEN with a little star next to it. They sent one of his headshots to an artist who made a sketch and somehow they imprinted the drawing into the stone above Tom’s name. It looks remarkably like a photograph. She plans on putting some of the remains there and the rest in the garden in their back yard, where Tom used to work sometime. To update everybody about what has gone on the past 6 months, here is a recap to what has been a very long, tedious, frustrating and painful ordeal for the Gallison family.
As I think you all know, Tom’s death certificate lists the cause of death as “suicide.” I think the majority of us believe this to be inaccurate to say the least. The Gallison family has been trying to get the Union County Medical Examiner to change this to “undetermined” or perhaps, “death by misadventure.” They have as of yet been unsuccessful. Now it’s certainly easy for many to say “Changing it is not going to bring Tom back. What does it matter?” Well it matters to Tom’s family, most especially his mother. That’s enough of a reason for me to want to get this done and hopefully you too. The principle of the matter is at stake here and that lies in more than just the fact that Tom’s death will contribute to an already inaccurate statistic. It lies mostly in the fact that this tragic occurrence was unprofessionally and improperly handled from top to bottom. It was treated as casually and routinely as if there are people killed by trains in Westfield every week.
Police Lieutenant John Parizeau on the scene checked the little white box next to ‘suicide’ as a probable cause of death. This was upheld by the Union County Medical Examiner Ms. Linares (she wishes to be called, DOCTOR, please), who based her decision on a combination of medical (ahem) facts and testimony. For those who did not get a chance to see the medical examiners report, here is a short run-down of some of DOCTOR Linares’ findings.
1) Deceased had no traces of Marijuana, cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, barbiturates, or a hundred thousand other drugs too long to list here.
2) Deceased had a beard.
3) Deceased stomach contents contained alcohol.
4) Deceased urine sample was clear, indicating that he had been drinking alcohol.
5) Deceased had a blood-alcohol content of .10
6) Deceased had no known medical condition.
If you find numbers 2 and 6 unbelievable then you are right, because they simply aren’t true. If you find numbers 2 and 6 unbelievable, then you are just feeling an nth of the amazement the Gallison family has felt for almost a year now. Amazed that a medical examiner could call herself DOCTOR and come back with such a glaringly incomplete, inaccurate and amateur report as this. You might also expect to see “Deceased was dead” somewhere among these other’s mentioned above.
Dr. Linares, the Union County Medical Examiner, also took into consideration a written statement by one Nora Pellegrino, the woman Tom was having a relationship with. In Nora’s statement, she states that Tom was a chronic alcoholic and drank every day. Her description of the events that night were taken down word for word and believed by both Dr. Linares and the Police.
Facts on Nora:Married, two kids, husband knew about her relationship with Tom and supposedly didn’t mind. They had (quote)”An open relationship” (end quote). The police/detectives interviewed Nora and her husband, and despite the blatant possibilities for foul play in this scenario, they believed her story and everything she said about Tom.
The police had told Tom’s mother they identified him by his driver’s license photo. In reality, Nora identified the body that day. Tom’s parents were never told this. Yet another inconsistency in a case that seems like it was destined to be swept under the rug from the beginning. In hindsight, it appears the police were deliberately withholding information. Tom’s mother didn’t know Nora was even involved until Nora called her from the hospital 4 days later. Why the police were withholding all this from the Gallison family, I don’t know. (This would never fly on ‘Law and Order’). Maybe they had their reasons, but certainly at some point they could have come forth with all the facts, rather than let the family discover these things on their own. In general, the police have treated the Gallisonâ€™s as though they needed to be “spared” details on the incident, as if they would feel better being kept in the dark. All of this is assuming that the Westfield police even knew what they were doing, which frankly, is also questionable.
Tom’s mother Dorothy happened to read Nora’s statement and find out about Nora identifying the body, only after Dr. Linares offered to let her see the statement in an effort to convince her that this was a suicide. Nora’s statement is, in fact, the reason Dr. Linares did not and apparently will not change the cause of death. It is absolutely preposterous for a decision like this to be based on the testimony of one person. There is no note, no proof that Tom had any intention of killing himself. We only have Nora’s word. She says he left a message on her answering machine saying something that might lead one to believe Tom would do such a thing, however that message was conveniently erased.
I am not trying to discredit Nora, nor imply that she is directly responsible for Tom’s death. I am merely bringing to light that in this investigation there was not a lot of investigating done. From the Keystone cops of Westfield, to the ramblings of a State Detective named Cassidy (whose seemingly sole function and contribution to the case was to repeatedly interview Tom’s mother over coffee every couple of days), to the painfully absurd findings of Dr. Linares; this case was treated as though it took place in a small town where nothing bad ever happens. (Maybe suicides, but no (god -forbid) accidents or (gasp) homicides.)
Mary Wilford, (my mother) has been involved with this in that she initiated a letter along with one from Tom’s family, to an elected official, namely Assemblyman Richard Bagger requesting more information as to the conclusions that were made about Tom’s death. Only after many letters and months of going back and forth on this issue, did Dr. Linares finally agree to talk to Tom’s Mother. She did so, and after relating much of the above mis-information (and realizing her incompetence meter was steadily rising for all to see) she requested to speak with Mary instead. Her intention was to convince Mary of Tom’s suicide and let her be the one to convince Dorothy. Let it be noted that Dr. Linares had the audacity to say that Tom’s mother was “in denial” of her son’s suicide because she was so grief-stricken and should seek counseling.
Mary found Dr. Linares adamant that Tom committed suicide. The doctor showed her Nora’s statement as “proof”. Mary explained that people close to Tom found it difficult to believe that Tom would ever commit suicide, least of all under circumstances such as these. Why should one person’s slant on Tom be the deciding factor on the cause of death? Were there not other possibilities? Perhaps a bizarre accident as Tom often wandered around at night on the train tracks. (We all know this to be true of Tom.) Or perhaps his diabetes played some part in this tragedy. At any rate there is enough doubt lingering about to simply say: “We don’t know what happened that night.”
But police and doctors don’t like to admit to such a thing as “not knowing”. They must know, because they are professionals and they never make mistakes. They have seen a hundred cases just like this one, it’s always the same.
Mary inquired who would be hurt if indeed they decided to change the cause of death to “undetermined.” Would the Lieutenant’s clean record be at stake? Would he be reprimanded, assigned desk work, his reputation shattered? No. Would Dr. Linares lose her (I can’t believe I’m even writing the word in the same sentence) credibility? No. Mary then pointed out that while changing it would not hurt anyone, it would help the Gallison family. Dr. Linares responded: “We don’t want to change it because we don’t believe we are wrong.”
Contrary to the medical examiners report, Tom did have a known medical condition. Tom had diabetes. His blood-sugar content was not tested by Dr. Linares when she conducted the autopsy. In August, at the family’s request she finally did run the test. Normal blood sugar content is 100 – 120. Tom’s blood sugar came back as 10.The Gallison family had their own toxicologist examine that report. He said that in his estimation Tom was near comatose at the time of his death.
The conductor of the train said Tom was lying face-down, and only raised his head slightly when the train horn sounded. A friend of mine was a paramedic for many years in Eastern Iowa and Chicago, and was called to the scenes of numerous cases whereby victims committed suicide by jumping or stepping in front of a train. He never saw one case where a victim lay on the tracks and waited for one.
Tom nearly drowned in the summer of 1999 when while swimming in the ocean, his blood sugar dipped so low he hadn’t the strength to swim. Fortunately, his brother was near enough to pull him to safety.
All these things add up to this: A terrible tragedy occurred early morn February 25th, 2000 in Westfield, New Jersey. We don’t know the specifics of what happened and most likely never will. The only thing that is clear is that we don’t know what happened. For this reason, the cause of Tom’s death should be simply: “undetermined.”
Time, I absolve myself of your vow to vanquish me.