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Head of tourism lobby found dead in suicide

The president of South Carolina's Hospitality Association killed himself in the parking garage of his office building, a coroner said Tuesday, and officials said the man's co-workers found a note referring to a federal investigation into the association's finances,

Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said it appears that Tom Sponseller killed himself with a gunshot to his head.

Sponseller's body was found Tuesday behind two locked doors in a parking garage below his office hours after co-workers found the note, authorities said. A 9 mm handgun belonging to Sponseller was also found at the scene, police said.

Sponseller had been missing for 10 days, and the garage was searched three times before the body was found. Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott said his officers didn't have access to the electrical room where the body was discovered until around 11 a.m. Tuesday.

Sponseller's co-workers called investigators once they found the note, which was not in plain view in Sponseller's office. Scott said that call led to Tuesday's search.

Because the search for Sponseller was a missing-persons investigation and authorities had no indication a crime had occurred, it limited how thoroughly officers could inspect his office, Scott said.

"We're not perfect, but I'm a little disappointed," Scott said. "I'm not happy with this."

A woman who answered the phone at the Sponsellers' home said Tuesday the family did not want to comment.

Monday, federal officials confirmed to the Associated Press they were investigating several hundred thousand dollars missing from the group that lobbies for South Carolina's $14 billion tourism industry.