Former mayor of Spencer Alicia Bean commits suicide

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 28, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — After struggling for years with mental illness and substance abuse, former Spencer Mayor Alicia Waddell Bean died early Monday morning in an apparent suicide.
Bean, 45, died at her mother’s home at 238 Camelot Drive in Salisbury. Penny Blake found her daughter and called 911 for help.
Salisbury Police officers discovered Bean “deceased in her bedroom from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” according to Chief Rory Collins.
Though initial findings at the scene caused investigators to “strongly suspect suicide,” Salisbury detectives continued to investigate, Collins said.
Bean had been scheduled to appear in court Monday for an equitable distribution hearing regarding her divorce. She had several pending criminal charges stemming from an armed standoff with police in 2009 and money missing from the Spencer Jaycees in 2007 and 2008 while she was treasurer.
Before her life began to unravel, the North Rowan High School graduate was a dedicated public servant who focused on supporting town employees during her six years in public office, said those who knew her.
People remembered her as an intelligent, funny woman and devoted mother.
“She was without a doubt one of the brightest, most curious students I ever enjoyed teaching,” said Pete Prunkl, an adjunct professor at Catawba College who taught introduction to psychology in the Lifelong Learning Program. “Her death is a tragedy, a death out of season.”
Prunkl said Bean earned the highest grade in his class in 2005. He counted her among the top 10 students of his 22-year career.
“She was a treasure,” he said.
Bean won election to the Spencer Board of Aldermen in 2001 and 2003. In 2005, she was the first woman elected mayor of Spencer.
“The fabric in our small towns is pretty delicate and needs compassionate care and oversight from time to time, and Alicia certainly had that passion,” said Randy Gettys, who served as mayor pro tem for the two years Bean was mayor.
Gettys said he and Bean didn’t always agree.
“But I really enjoyed debating her because I knew her heart was in the right place,” he said.
As mayor, Bean advocated for what she called “responsible growth,” with the development of parks, shops and the library to complement the N.C. Transportation Museum.
“She really stood up for employees,” Town Manager Larry Smith said. “She gave them complete and genuine support.”
Despite the events of recent years, “it was obvious that her heart was with both the employees and the town of Spencer the whole time she served,” Smith said.
On May 15, 2009, Spencer Police surrounded her house after Bean called in a suicide threat. She called her husband, Tony Bean, and said she planned to cause police to shoot her, according to court documents.
Police stood by for nearly an hour before tackling her in a storage building behind her house on North Yadkin Avenue. The rifle she had carried around in the yard was not loaded.
“Those officers at the standoff, they were just as much friends with her as anything,” Smith said.
Bean was charged with two counts of felony assault on law enforcement officer. She was immediately hospitalized for four months in a state mental hospital, then incarcerated at the Rowan County Detention Center.
Her mother posted bond in December 2009, and Bean was released into her custody pending a trial.
During many of Bean’s legal troubles, attorney James Davis represented her.
“We are surprised and saddened to hear the news about Alicia,” Davis said Monday. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family, particularly her mother and daughter.”
In 2005, Bean unseated Jody Everhart to become mayor.
Now mayor once again, Everhart said Bean served the town well during her tenure, and he expressed sadness upon hearing of her death.
“I hate it for the family, her child and all the citizens of Spencer,” he said. “You know, we never know what each individual is going through.”
In September 2010, the Rowan County District Attorney’s Office alleged Bean had violated the terms of her release by living alone.
She failed to appear for the hearing in Rowan County Superior Court, and authorities issued an order for her arrest.
The day of the hearing, Bean was admitted to LifeWorks Behavioral Health Center at Rowan Regional Medical Center.
Two days later, Bean attempted to hang herself at Lifeworks and remained in the hospital or a rehabilitation facility through October and November 2010.
In an Oct. 21, 2010 letter to Bean’s mother, hospital President Dari Caldwell said a staff member did not check on Bean every 15 minutes, as she was supposed to.
The employee resigned, Caldwell said. After a review, the hospital retrained staff, started an audit process, removed chairs from Lifeworks rooms, altered the shower and bathroom doors and changed door hinges.
“As such, we have taken steps to reduce the risk of something like this from happening again,” she said.
On Monday, hospital spokeswoman Robin Baltimore said, “Our thoughts are with (Bean’s) family at this difficult time.”
After leaving the rehabilitation facility, Bean turned herself in on the failure to appear charge. She was out on bond when a Rowan County grand jury indicted her on six embezzlement charges stemming from a two-year SBI investigation into money missing from the Spencer Jaycees.
Bean was accused of taking more than $8,000 between July 2007 and August 2008 while she served as treasurer. She was released on bond.
All criminal charges related to the alleged embezzlement and standoff with police were pending when Bean died Monday.
“Town Hall and Spencer employees are completely saddened,” Smith said. “Our prayers go out to her family right now.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.