RALEIGH — Thomas “Tommy” Sadler emerged in the public spotlight on April 10 as a naked man yelling obscenities in a church parking lot just before he died after a Raleigh police officer used a Taser stun gun to try to subdue him.
Stan Williams, Sadler’s morning coffee drinking buddy, recognizes that part of his friend.
“He had anger issues,” Williams said of Sadler. “It was like a temper tantrum lived under his skin, ready to explode at any moment, like Tourette’s syndrome. It just comes.”
But Williams also remembers a guy who loved his parents and daydreamed of owning a silver, 1969 Plymouth GTX with a burgundy interior. Williams said casual conversations at their favorite coffee shop on Hillsborough Street would often turn serious when Sadler asked him how to better communicate with his live-in girlfriend or how to tell his son he loved him.
“He was just a big, fat country boy who loved his Mommy and Daddy,” said Williams, 50, of Raleigh. “He was like a little kid in a 45 year old’s body.”
During his encounter with police, Sadler collapsed in the middle of the street, about 50 yards from the home he rented on Mial Street in the Five Points neighborhood, and was pronounced dead. The State Bureau of Investigation is reviewing the incident. The results of an autopsy to determine how Sadler died have not been released.
Thomas Jeffrey Sadler grew up in the small town of Powhatan, Va., west of Richmond. After high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Marines and saw combat during the Gulf War, according to his ex-wife, Lynn Sadler.
After his military discharge, Sadler briefly attended two small colleges in Virginia but left school and was invited to try out as a linebacker with the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers, Lynn Sadler said. She said her former husband’s dreams of a pro football career were quashed after he injured his knee.
Instead, he enrolled at George Mason University in Northern Virginia and majored in sociology. Lynn Sadler was studying nursing at Shenandoah University. A cousin of hers introduced them.
“We fell in love immediately and became the best of friends,” she said.
The Sadlers graduated in the spring of 1998 and married later that year. Their only child, Thomas James “TJ” Sadler, is now 12. The couple purchased a townhome in a new subdivision in Bristow, Va., southwest of Washington, D.C. Tommy Sadler worked in portfolio management for a private company, while his wife worked as a nurse.
“He was making bank,” Lynn Sadler said. “It was well over $100,000.”
Lynn Sadler said she and her former husband were building a new home when things started to go downhill.
“He changed,” she said. “He was irritable, unsettled, and he just couldn’t seem to find his niche anymore and instead of laughing we were having more arguments.”
Tommy Sadler was also having nightmares about the Gulf War.
“He would be back over there in his mind,” Lynn Sadler said. “He would relive those things.”
The couple separated and divorced in 2007. Tommy Sadler moved to North Carolina, and Lynn Sadler moved into the new home they had built.
“I loved him, but we weren’t able to have a healthy relationship anymore,” she said. “Even my best friend loved him. She bawled her eyes out when she heard about the divorce. He told funny stories and always had lots of interesting things to talk about. He was witty and had a very creative mind.”
Lynn Sadler said her former husband was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome while living in North Carolina. She remained in touch with him and spoke to him regularly by phone until last summer.
She says when he died in the street earlier this month without any clothes on that it was not the first time police had found him like that. A few years ago, she said, Tommy Sadler called her sometime after midnight, saying “the most bizarre things.”
“He told me George Strait was an angel on his shoulder. I didn’t know what was going on. I called his parents,” she said. “Then I tried to call him back, but he didn’t answer.”
A few hours later, she received a call from WakeMed in Raleigh.
“They told me the police had found Tommy walking the streets of Raleigh naked,” she said. “He gave them my number and said I was his wife and would come pick him up. His parents called me the next day and said that was his third episode.”
Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue declined to say if police have had previous encounters with Tommy Sadler.
Williams said he met his coffee-drinking buddy more than 10 years ago. Most mornings the two would pal around at Cup A Joe on Hillsborough Street. Williams described his friend as “a big bag of flour with no muscle tone who couldn’t beat his way out of a wet paper bag with a bulldozer after church on Sunday.”
“He had great love on the inside, but the anger, that’s what people saw,” he said.
Williams last talked with his friend at Cup A Joe the morning before he died. “He was not in a good state of mind that day,” Williams said. “He wasn’t saying what exactly was going on. He talked about being fat and out of shape. He couldn’t work because he had just had surgery on his shoulder.
“I’m trying to look at what happened spiritually. Tommy’s not in turmoil anymore. He’s drinking good coffee, got himself a big buffet and a 1969 Plymouth GTX.”