Despite startling news on Tuesday of Gary D. Cook’s death — reportedly by natural causes — just seven months after a Culpeper police officer shot and killed his wife on North East Street, his $5.35 million wrongful death lawsuit filed in May against that former officer will continue to move forward, according to his Charlottesville lawyer.
Attorney J. Gregory Webb of MichieHamlett said Wednesday that the late Patricia Ann Cook’s younger brother, John Weigler, of Pennsville, N.J. will replace Gary Cook as administrator of his sister’s estate in the civil matter against ex-officer Daniel Harmon-Wright, 32.
“I have talked to [Weigler] and he has indicated that is his intent,” said Webb, who started representing Gary Cook following his wife’s untimely death in February.
Webb, who spoke to Gary Cook as recently as last week, called his client’s death “an unfortunate and tragic turn to this whole story.”
“I wonder if he was lonely because he didn’t have his wife anymore,” Webb posed. “His plans that had existed in January of retiring and spending his retirement with his wife and enjoying the golden years was just ripped from him and I wonder if he died of a broken heart. I just don’t know. This whole thing is just awful.”
On Tuesday, a maintenance crew entered Gary Cook’s Friendship Heights apartment to conduct routine service for the apartment complex, and discovered his lifeless body, according to Virginia State Police.
Gary Cook was 62.
“At this stage of the investigation, it does not appear foul play was a factor,” VPS spokeswoman Corinne Geller said Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the VSP shared preliminary results from the Manassas Office of the Chief Medical Examiner regarding Gary Cook’s autopsy, which showed he died of natural causes.
Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to Gary Cook’s residence around 10:29 a.m. Tuesday for a report of a deceased male.
According to Geller, the CCSO contacted the VSP Bureau of Criminal Investigation Culpeper Field Office to handle the circumstances of Gary Cook’s death, which they describe as “unattended.”
Gary Cook’s next-door neighbor Kelly Stepp, who didn’t know her neighbor’s identity until Tuesday, said she hadn’t noticed anything strange or suspicious in her apartment complex.
“I sit outside on my patio all of the time because I smoke until 11, 12, 1 o’clock [a .m.]. I’ll sit outside and I never see nothing,” she said. “It’s a very nice, quiet neighborhood. Our property manager is very strict, but it keeps the place quiet.”
Stepp, who lives in the same apartment building as Gary Cook, said Wednesday that she and Gary Cook would pass each other in the parking lot.
“We spoke as were coming and going and he seemed really nice,” said Stepp, who moved into Friendship Heights in March 2011. “I didn’t even know they lived next to me. I thought he has always lived there by himself, I never saw her.”
Asked if his client’s death came as a shock, Webb responded, “I’d say that’s an understatement.”
“I was driving back from out of town and had to pull over. I could not believe it,” said Webb.
According to the Virginia State Police, Harmon-Wright, accused of murder in Patricia Cook’s death, responded to a report of a suspicious woman sitting in a Jeep Wrangler parked in the Epiphany Catholic School’s middle school parking lot in the 300 block of North East Street on Feb. 9 around 10 a.m.
According to the special prosecutor in the criminal case against Harmon-Wright, the former officer fired his gun seven times that fatal day, following an altercation with Mrs. Cook. She was fatally struck in the brain, heart and lungs.
Harmon-Wright, of Gainesville, pleaded not guilty in June to murder, malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle, malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle resulting in a death and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony in the shooting death of Patricia Cook in downtown Culpeper. A U.S. Marine and Iraq War veteran, Harmon-Wright is free on $100,000 bond awaiting his jury trial in Culpeper County Circuit Court on Jan. 22 at 9:30 a.m.
Gary Cook recently retired as a business management specialist for the United States General Services Administration in Arlington at the end of August.
Asked if Gary Cook suffered from any illnesses, Webb said his client had typical problems that men in their 60s might have, “but nothing terminal or anything that I knew of that was going to cause his imminent demise.”
“As far as I knew, he was healthy,” Webb continued.
A disabled Vietnam veteran, Gary Cook was married to Patricia Ann Cook of Illinois for eight years until her untimely death in February.
“He was a decorated combat veteran in Vietnam. He was just a good guy who served his country as a civil servant and as a veteran and this is sad,” Webb added.
The couple met in Illinois in 1970 after he retuned from overseas following the war. At that time, however, she was married to someone else and Gary Cook got married to another woman at a later date. Gary Cook has a young adult son, Matthew, with his first wife.
Gary and Pat Cook reconnected many years later and relocated to Culpeper in order for him to commute to work in Northern Virginia. Patricia Cook was a member of the Culpeper United Methodist Church for seven years.
The Rev. Randy Orndorff, pastor at Culpeper United Methodist Church, where Pat Cook was active in the children’s ministry, said he last spoke to Gary Cook in late May when a special investigative grand jury handed down several indictments against Harmon-Wright, including the murder charge. Orndorff said he was not aware of any of Gary Cook’s health issues, but that the widower was obviously struggling with his wife’s untimely death.
“He was not extremely well,” Orndorff said. “With all of the stress and pressure of it, I’m sure he was just trying to make it through.”
The pastor said he heard Tuesday from Gary Cook’s son, Matthew, about Mr. Cook’s passing, and that the son indicated funeral arrangements were incomplete at this time.
“Matt shared with me they thought it was a heart attack or a stroke,” Orndorff said of what caused Gary Cook’s death.
Patricia Cook’s brother, John Weglier, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Staff writer Allison Brophy Champion contributed to this report.