LIMA — The Bath schools teacher and coach who committed suicide Thursday was the subject of an investigation into a possible “inappropriate relationship” involving a male student at the high school.
Jeremy Winegardner, 35, committed suicide late Thursday afternoon after resigning his job as a teacher and as a coach. His father, Robert Winegardner, found his son’s body shortly after 5 p.m. in a chair in the garage at his son’s East Road home, said Chief Deputy Jimmy Everett of the Allen County Sheriff’s Office.
Winegardner was shot once in the upper body. He was pronounced dead at the scene, Everett said.
The house was locked and there were no signs of a break in, Everett said.
Winegardner’s death came during a troubled week for him.
The sheriff’s office started an investigation over inappropriate text messages between Winegardner and a male high school student, Everett said.
“We had received a report from Children Services that there may have been some inappropriate texting between (Winegardner) and a student,” Everett said.
Everett would not go into details of the texting but said nothing investigators had found, so far, indicated Winegardner committed a crime.
“You can have text messages that insinuate something was going on,” Everett said. “Right now all I’ll say is inappropriate. The investigation, right now, had revealed nothing criminal.”
That investigation included more than just looking at the text messages, but also interviewing people involved. Investigators have not interviewed the student involved in the text messaging, Everett said.
Winegardner’s resignation letter said he was resigning for personal reasons. The Bath school board held a special meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday to approve the letter. School board members were unaware of Winegardner’s death at the time of the meeting.
“Yesterday’s event was a tragedy,” Superintendent Dale Lewellen said in a written statement. “Our hearts are heavy and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family.”
Winegardner was put on paid administrative leave from teaching and coaching Monday, according to his school personnel file. Winegardner was notified Tuesday by letter that a meeting had been scheduled for Thursday morning “regarding your relationship” with a student.
A required district report sent to the Ohio Department of Education on Friday said Winegardner had resigned “in the course of an investigation into acts unbecoming the profession.”
“The allegations concern Mr. Winegardner engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a 15-year-old student,” it reads.
Lewellen clarified that "inappropriate relationship" is the overall classification for the nature of the text messages from the teacher to the student.
Winegardner, a 1996 Shawnee High School and Apollo Career Center graduate, taught fifth-grade math at the middle school for 12 years. He was in his third year as head varsity boys soccer coach. The soccer team was 10-3 this season after a 16-1 record in 2011.
According to his personnel file, he had at one time been a junior varsity soccer coach and a junior varsity assistant boys basketball coach.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete at Bayliff & Son Funeral Home, Cridersville, where family may call from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday and friends may call from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday.
The district contacted a regional critical incidents team Thursday night and members came to the school to begin talking about how to handle the day, Lewellen said. The group came back Friday morning to help train teachers in how to help pupils and returned after school to help teachers cope. Several area schools sent counselors to be available to pupils throughout the day.
“The process of dealing with the tragedy has begun,” Lewellen said. “I believe the staff is performing excellently in helping everyone get through it.”
A”Critical Incidents Stress Management” link has been put up on the district web site: www.bathwildcats.org.
Winegardner also was an assistant girls varsity basketball coach at Columbus Grove High School. He was hired in 2010 and was the freshman girls coach last year. High School Principal Scott Hummel said school officials met with the team this morning.
“It is not impacting us nearly as much as Bath, but it is impacting our girls basketball team,” he said. “He was well liked and some of them are taking it pretty hard.”
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Jeremy R. Winegardner