published Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Family questions circumstances of Murray County man's death

Police found the man on a living room floor the morning after Christmas, passed out, blood leaking from his mouth and his nose.

Six hours earlier, according to a Murray County, Ga., Sheriff's Office incident report, John Dwight Phillips visited his mother, Terri Lynn Welch. Phillips had just gotten into a Christmas-day argument with his wife.

When he got to his mother's house, located at 1744 Smyrna Church Road in Chatsworth, Phillips drank a couple of beers. Then, he told investigators, he got into another argument, this time with his mother's boyfriend, Tommy Walraven.

Go home to your wife, Walraven allegedly said.

Get out of my mom's house, Phillips fired back.

Walraven then walked into Welch's bedroom and came back with a shotgun, according to the report. Phillips later told investigators that Walraven pressed the gun into Phillips' gut, and that's when he fought back.

Phillips, 29, punched Walraven, 63, in the face, over and over. Walraven then allegedly sat on the couch, and Phillips retreated to the guest room. He said he suffered a panic attack.

Six hours later, around 4 a.m. on Dec. 26, Welch called 911. That's when investigators found Walraven, bleeding and unconscious. The next day, at Hamilton Medical Center, his family told doctors to take him off life support. He died 15 minutes later.

The investigation into Walraven's death remains open, said Murray County Detective Andrew Dill, the lead investigator on the case. An initial autopsy confirmed that Walraven died from blunt force trauma to the head, but Dill is still waiting for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to finish the final report. That could take months.

When asked if he knew why Welch and Phillips waited until six hours after the fight to call 911, Dill declined to comment.

"He laid there six hours on the floor, beaten to death, pretty much dead," said Walraven's son, 37-year-old Nathan Gaddy.

When a reporter called the phone number Welch provided to the sheriff's office, nobody picked up, and Phillips could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

But Gaddy, of Rocky Face, Ga., said he can't believe his father would pull a gun on Phillips, and he can't believe a 29-year-old had to beat a 63-year-old to death with his bare hands.

The second youngest of 14 children, Walraven was raised in Murray County. He loved basketball and football, and he worked for Shaw Industries.

As a young adult, he struggled with alcohol. Gaddy said his mother remarried and his stepfather adopted Gaddy, but Walraven still saw him often.

"He's no angel," said his younger brother, 61-year-old Brian Walraven. "He didn't deserve to be beaten to death, either."

After paramedics brought Walraven to the hospital, Welch called Gaddy, who was in North Carolina for Christmas. Welch told him about the fight. She told him she thought Walraven would make it.

Later that night, though, Gaddy got another call from his uncle. He needed to get to the hospital as soon as he could. Walraven was brain dead.

Gaddy arrived at Hamilton Medical Center around 7 a.m. on Dec. 27. In Walraven's room, he tried to talk to his father.

"I'm here," he said. "I love you."

But his father didn't respond. Doctors had shaved the gray hair from the right side of his head, where they had opened his skull in an attempt to reduce its swelling. His whole head had ballooned -- so big, Gaddy said, it swallowed his neck.

Around 10:30 a.m., Gaddy and five of Walraven's siblings agreed to take him off life support. Everyone but Gaddy and Gaddy's cousin left. They didn't want to watch him die.

Gaddy didn't want to watch either, didn't want to see the doctors remove the breathing machine, didn't want to hear a loud, repeated beep -- a sound alerting nurses and doctors that, if they didn't act quickly, a life would be lost. Gaddy didn't want to sit there, holding his father's hand as his arm jerked in one final, mystery movement before he died.

But Gaddy felt he had to stay until the end.

"He was there when I was born," Gaddy told himself. "Shoot, I can be there when he dies."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com.

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