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Coroner says man’s death in standoff was suicide

The state fire marshal’s investigator who died in a standoff last week with Henderson police took his own life, the Clark County coroner’s office ruled Tuesday.

Eric Jason Thatcher, 38, died from a self-inflicted "intra-oral" gunshot wound to the head, the coroner said, and not by an officer’s bullet.

Police arrived at Thatcher’s home about 11:30 a.m. Thursday on the 2700 block of Auchmull Street, south of Sun City Anthem Drive. He immediately began firing at officers through house windows, striking at least one police car and several adjacent residences.

Neighbors heard dozens of shots fired during more than two hours as SWAT officers closed off the neighborhood.

Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy said a coroner’s inquest will be held in Thatcher’s death, even though the fatal gunshot was self-inflected. An inquest is not uncommon in suicides when officers shoot toward someone, he said, and the hearing will "answer all the questions that may have arisen as a result of this case."

Inquests typically are held to determine whether an officer’s actions that resulted in the death of a suspect are justifiable, excusable or criminal. No date for the Thatcher inquest has been scheduled yet.

Ritch Melchert, a 10-year police department veteran, has been placed on routine paid administrative leave for firing his weapon during the incident, according to Henderson police spokesman Keith Paul. Police said at least one round was fired at Thatcher but said they would have no additional comment until the inquest.

Thatcher, a former Nevada Highway Patrol trooper, was fired in May 2005 after an internal investigation into his arrest of a hit-and-run suspect who accused him of using excessive force.

After he challenged his firing, a hearing master determined the investigation was "seriously flawed" and reinstated the trooper with full back pay. Thatcher later resigned and joined the state fire marshal’s office .

On the day before the standoff, Thatcher’s brother, Ron, 39, took a last-second flight to Las Vegas from San Jose, Calif., to try to help his sibling. He found Eric armed, paranoid and suicidal — in the worst shape he had ever seen. He pleaded and bargained with his brother but said even yelling at him didn’t work.

Eric refused to put away the guns and, believing his brother was only seconds from killing himself, Ron left the house.

"He was sitting there with his guns, and I thought for sure he was going to shoot me," Ron said last week. "Sometimes he didn’t know who I was and would accuse me of being in on the conspiracy."

Ron said that Eric and his wife had separated and that she had taken their two young children.

And although that was a major factor in his depression, Ron said Eric also never recovered from his battle with the Highway Patrol.

Ron said Eric e-mailed him during the gunbattle with police.

In one e-mail, Eric explicitly stated in a sometimes profane rant that he blamed the Highway Patrol for his problems, Ron said.

Eric wrote that he was a "peacemaker" and "gentle spirit" before his legal fight with the agency.

"I was good until their lies and conspiracy destroyed me," he wrote. "It ruined my soul. I used to be good. Now I don’t care."

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