Days after the news that former Guilford County Chief District Court Judge Tom Jarrell died from a drug overdose, the local community – especially those who knew him well – continued to be stunned by the news. The autopsy report and the cause of death released on Thursday, Oct. 17 were so incongruous with the public life of Jarrell that it left many people in a state of disbelief.
On Sunday, Aug. 4, Jarrell died suddenly at the age of 56. At that time, many believed the cause of death was a heart attack; however, the autopsy released last week concluded that Jarrell’s death was due to “Fentanyl and heroin intoxication.”
One example of how highly remarkable and upsetting that news is was clearly evident at the Thursday, Oct. 17 Guilford County Board of Commissioners work session that was taking place on the third floor of the BB&T Building in downtown Greensboro as the news hit late that afternoon. The meeting was going full tilt when many commissioners suddenly started looking at their phones and speaking in hushed tones in side conversations with other commissioners. Looks of concern and puzzlement spread across their faces as they read what was on their phones.
It was then announced that the work session would take a recess due to “some disturbing news” that had just come to light.
Later that night, in the large meeting room in the Old Guilford County Court House, the commissioners, who were holding their regular meeting after the work session, honored the one-year anniversary of the Guilford County Family Justice Center in High Point, which Jarrell played a big role in establishing. There was no mention of Jarrell or the shocking news during the ceremony – but there was a quiet, somber tone to what should have been a very upbeat part of the meeting.
That was just the first wave of stunned disbelief – which grew wider in the following hours and days as the news spread throughout Guilford County and beyond. Even people in other parts of the country, who had no familiarity with Jarrell, couldn’t seem to make sense of his amazingly impressive biography and the fact that he was declared dead of a drug overdose.
The story was picked up by most major newspapers in North Carolina and other news outlets in the Southeast, as well as by national sites such as Yahoo News and sites that carry legal news.
In one online discussion group in another part of the country, one amazed poster wrote that Jarrell’s resume read like “a Who’s Who of good guys.”
Locally on Facebook, Former Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes, who’s now running for mayor of Summerfield, was one of many in the local community who posted their thoughts after the news of the cause of Jarrell’s death.
Barnes wrote, “Today, I heard some shocking news from the autopsy of friend and former Judge Tom Jarrell. Shocking because it listed heroin and fentanyl as contributing factors in his death. I was shocked as was many others I have talked with. Tom never let it affect his work that I saw. He was a great judge and valued member of the criminal justice system … What this does show is this epidemic can and does touch anybody, anywhere, anytime. I hope this revelation, while devastating to many can be a wake up call to others. If you or someone you know has a problem, GET HELP. I think Tom would tell you the same if he could.”