A University of Alabama graduate who died of fentanyl poisoning after attending a bachelorette party in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida is described as an athlete, chef, comedian and inspirational fortune teller.
Thomas Gleason, 26, died in May days after collapsing with friends over the weekend.
“He was a man older than him,” his father, Bob Gleason, said in his son’s obituary. “A man who, although only 26 years old, lived a fuller life than many people in 76 years.”
“He came into this world a humpbacked bronco and left the same way,” wrote Bob. “But most importantly, his ‘I love you’ caught up with everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him.”
Tom made a lasting impression in life, and now his father hopes he will make an enduring impression in death.
“If this fentanyl poisoning can do any good, if it could save a life in the future, then I’m all for it,” Bob said.
On Wednesday, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office announced the arrest of 26-year-old John David “JD” Nabors, who lives in Mountain Brook, 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 found in directly provided narcotics,” the sheriff’s office said.
A grand jury indicted Nabors for the felony of distributing a controlled substance that resulted in death. Nabors turned himself in to the Walton County Jail Wednesday morning and was released Thursday after posting $25,000 bail.
A number listed in the court records for Nabors was unanswered. The Florida records did not list an attorney for Nabors.
Nabors is scheduled to appear in court on January 17, according to records.
Bob spoke to AL.com about the events that he said took his son’s life in hopes others will learn from Tom’s death.
Tom, who was from Connecticut, entered a whole different world when he decided 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 ended up in life,” Bob wrote in the obituary.
“Once he realized that joining a fraternity was an integral part of a great Southern school experience, he knew he had to solve the problem of not knowing a soul who could sponsor him.”
“To solve it, he just knocked on Phi Delta Theta’s front door, and through his charm and wit,” Bob said, “he was allowed in, although he later learned it shouldn’t have been possible.”
In Phi Delt, Tom would meet the friends he had attended the bachelor party with almost seven months ago. Tom was scheduled 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 the 10 months prior to the trip. He had a great job and was successful in life.
“They were all,” he said of the tour group. “These guys made it into 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 strippers – nothing unusual for a bachelorette party.
According to Bob, Nabors went to his car and returned with a cigar box containing illegal drugs. He said Nabors snorted a number of the drug, and then others too.
“Tom went next and immediately collapsed,” said Bob.
According to sheriff’s officers, first responders arrived and began resuscitating Tom and administering an AED. Three other men collapsed and stopped responding.
“It was a horrible sight,” said Bob, he was told.
All four were taken to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola.
Bob and his wife, Pam, received the news early Sunday, May 15th. “We got this horrible call…how soon can you get over here?” he recalled. “Tom’s brain was starved of oxygen.”
Bob and Pam had to take several flights to get from Connecticut to Florida.
“When we got to Charlotte (for a stopover), the doctor said, ‘Do you want us to let him live?’ That’s how it was,” said Bob.
When they arrived at Sacred Heart, Tom was on a ventilator. “We picked him up (Monday) in the morning and he was gone within 10 minutes,” he said.
Tom’s three friends spent several days in intensive care. The groom, whose engagement was called off immediately after the ill-fated bachelor party, had not snorted the drug and was not among those hospitalized, Bob said.
At first Bob thought the boys just got a bad batch of drugs. But he said he thinks Nabors knew he was giving his friends fentanyl – which police say only takes a very small amount to kill.
“When toxicology came back, Tom wasn’t even drunk. He had his brains and so did everyone else,” Bob said. “But the fentanyl levels were on 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 that’s what happened.”
“Our CID was able to link the fatal dose that Gleason took to Nabors,” Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson said in announcing Nabors’ arrest.
“This case is tragic and certainly one that we want to bring to a successful prosecution for Thomas’s family.”
Bob said he knew little about fentanyl before his son’s death.
“I didn’t know anyone who had tried, and Tom didn’t know anyone who had tried,” he said. “It was something that was not in his sphere.”
According to the CDC, 107,375 people died from drug overdoses and poisoning in the 12 months ended January 2022.
Of these, 67 percent were synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
According to authorities, many users were unaware that they were actually taking fentanyl, and it’s particularly dangerous for someone who has no tolerance to opioids.
“Fentanyl is the deadliest drug threat our nation has ever faced,” said DEA Administrator Ann Milgram. “Fentanyl is everywhere.”
Bob claims his son’s death was the result of fentanyl poisoning, not an overdose.
“When you say fentanyl death, it looks like a drug overdose, and that didn’t happen. That was poisoning,” Bob said.
“Fentanyl poisoning can happen anywhere. You can get it from a joint. You can get it from an Adderall. I liken it to going to a bar or bachelorette party and ordering a shot of Jack Daniels, you take the shot and die from it. That happened here.”
He said he hasn’t heard from Nabors or his family since Tom’s death, which he described as “disappointing”.
The arrest of Nabors, he said, doesn’t stop the pain or loss but does bring some closure to the grieving family. More importantly, he said, he believes it justifies his son’s name.
“You read the obituary, see he was 26 and (think) oh Tom must have been a (power) up,” Bob said. “That was not the case. So I have a good sense of justification.”
“When it first happened I thought it was an accident, they just caught a bad batch and I didn’t want JD to rot in prison,” Bob said. “I wanted to track down the retailers he bought it from and go up the chain.”
Bob said he believes Nabors bought “pure fentanyl” and gave it to his friends.
“My hope for JD is that he pays everyone’s medical bills and he has to serve some time in prison for taking a life. He has to pay the fine 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 hard on his friends and family, who believe he was destined for great things.
After graduating from UA, he began working as the Marketing Director for the NY/CT franchise of Go Minis portable storage units.
“After less than a year in office, unforeseen events forced him to become general manager as well,” said Bob. “Tom rose to the challenge and was the engine behind the business tripling over the next three years.”
After four years, Tom decided to start his own business. In March, he and a childhood friend founded Onyxbuyers.com, a real estate company that discovers and develops ugly homes in nice neighborhoods throughout Connecticut.
“Even though they’ve only officially been in business for three months, they had already tripled their guidance,” Bob said.
He was created. He was successful. He did fantastic,” said Bob. “I would call him Elon Musk – he was so ambitious.”
That’s why his death – and the cause of it – is so hard to bear.
“It’s like he got tripped from an encephalitis bite at the 99 yard line,” Bob said. “It was that strange.”
He said it was a bitter pill to swallow.
“It would certainly be his wish,” Bob said, “that his death serve as a lifelong commandment to all who knew him, as well as to all those who love them in turn, never to drink, eat, or ingest anything of its origin.” not visible.”
“The more people get the message,” he said, “the better.”