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Linked to a drug arrest in early November, Brian Bigelow maintained his innocence and denied he had fallen off the wagon after 22 years of sobriety.
But the former Lee County commissioner’s legal troubles and questions about possible substance abuse continued to mount early Friday when Fort Myers police arrested Bigelow, 49, after they reported finding 11 small bags of cocaine on him.
The arrest comes about two months after Bigelow’s tenure on the commission ended and a month after the death of his father Charlie, who was also a former Lee commissioner.
“I was sorry to see someone who had the future still ahead of him, to see his life sort of spiraling out of control,” said Commissioner John Manning, who hasn’t seen or spoken to Bigelow since he left the commission. “I don’t have all of the details. I know it was possession of cocaine, which is a felony, so it’s unfortunate.”
Bigelow has acknowledged his previous struggles with alcohol abuse in the early 1990s, when he said he contemplated suicide. In early November, after he was spotted by Lee County sheriff’s deputies at a known drug house, Bigelow denied any wrongdoing.
“Because I’ve been open and honest about my alcoholism, people are going to think I fell off the wagon,” he said at the time.
Friday morning, Bigelow, wore a grey jumpsuit for “inmate medical transports” as he stood in a Lee County courtroom. He did not speak during his first appearance before Lee County Judge Leigh Frizzell Hayes. His lawyer, Joel Kopf, was present.
“He’s not a danger to the community. He’s not a flight risk, so we’d ask that a low bond be set,” Kopf said before Hayes set bond at $12,000.
Bigelow is facing a felony cocaine possession charge, as well as misdemeanor charges of possession of drug equipment and loitering after he was arrested at a Fort Myers apartment complex Friday morning. Bigelow posted bond and was released about 10:30 a.m. He has been taken to an undisclosed health facility.
Kopf declined further comment after the hearing.
Bigelow was arrested at the Brookside Village Apartments, in the 1000 block of Marsh Avenue in Fort Myers, which is a well-documented high crime area, according to police reports.
Officers saw a silver Ford Focus parked in a parking stall between two of the buildings on the property just after midnight. The vehicle was running and the driver, later identified as Bigelow, was out of the vehicle near the trunk, according to the report. Officers also saw a male passenger — Markis Avila, 23 — in the vehicle.
Upon seeing the officers, Bigelow returned the driver’s seat and attempted to leave, reports said.
Officers stopped Bigelow’s vehicle, which was a rental, and asked for his identification. Bigelow told officers he felt as though he was being discriminated against and requested a supervisor respond to the scene, reports said.
As he spoke to the officers, Bigelow’s hands were shaking and he had sweat on his forehead despite the cool weather, reports said. Bigelow was also stuttering and struggling to find words as he spoke to officers, report said.
Officers called for a drug-sniffing K-9 to search the vehicle. The dog gave a positive alert that there were drugs in the car, according to reports. Officers searched the vehicle and found a small bag containing cocaine. As a result, Avila was arrested and charged with felony possession of cocaine and loitering.
After the cocaine was found in the car, officers searched both Bigelow and Avila. Officers found 10 small bags of cocaine in Bigelow’s right front pants pocket, reports said. Officers also found a cut, green straw inside his right utility pocket. Inside the straw was cocaine, according to reports.
Officers also noticed Bigelow had a Newport cigarette package in his hand. Inside the package was a plastic bag of cocaine.
“I heard that (Brian) was involved with drugs in his younger life,” Manning said. “I certainly didn’t know he was involved now. I mean he’s pushing 50. It’s kind of a difficult situation.”
Bigelow agreed to end his 6-year term as commissioner last summer to run for the Lee County clerk of courts. He lost that bid in the August primary to Linda Doggett.
In October, Bigelow was seen at a known drug house by Fort Myers police, according to arrest reports. An unlicensed teenager driving Bigelow’s rental car — David Alexander Henley, 19 — was arrested for cocaine and marijuana possession. Bigelow, who was in the passenger seat, was cited for allowing an unlicensed driver behind the wheel.
Henley told deputies that Bigelow used cocaine on a regular basis, according to the arrest report.
Neighbors near Bigelow’s home in the 1200 block Vesper Drive, Fort Myers, said he is a good person who never causes trouble. Janon Costello grew up with Bigelow and said they attended high school together. But she said although they lived next door to one another, they aren’t close.
“I’m sorry to hear he’s going through all this,” she said. “Some people just have hard luck.”
Manning said if he could tell his former colleague one thing, it would be to get help.
“It’s really sad, it really is,” he said. “He still had a future in front of him and this is going to hurt. It didn’t really surprise me, but it’s still a sad situation.”
Brian Bigelow biography and timeline
Brian Bigelow was born on Nov. 30, 1963, in Fort Myers. He is single and has no children, but has two dogs.
Bigelow is a fourth-generation Lee County resident. His great grandfather served on the Fort Myers City Council in the late 1800s. His father, Charlie Bigelow, served as a Lee County commissioner from 1986 to 1990.
Bigelow was educated in Lee County and is a graduate of Fort Myers High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in building construction from the University of Florida.
Bigelow spent the first five years of postgraduate professional life in the field of building construction management. He worked as a town planner in both the private and public sectors.
■ Dec. 13, 1990, Bigelow checked into Charter Glades Hospital for treatment for alcohol abuse.
■ Jan. 8, 1991, Bigelow checked out of Charter Glades Hospital. He told a Daily News reporter in 2006 he considered it his first day of sobriety.
■ November 2006, Bigelow was elected to the District 2 Lee County Commission seat, defeating 16-year incumbent Doug St. Cerny in the Republican primary and Gerard David Jr. in the general election.
■ 2010 election, Bigelow had a spat with Sheriff Mike Scott over Bigelow’s homosexuality. This has since been a sticking point for Bigelow, who often says he feels discriminated against.
■ Nov. 2010, Bigelow was re-elected to the commission.
■ May 2012, Bigelow files resignation documents after two years to run for clerk of courts.
■ Aug. 14, 2012, Bigelow loses in the August primary to Linda Doggett.
■ Nov. 6, 2012, Cecil Pendergrass, a former Fort Myers Police Department officer, won Bigelow’s seat and is fulfilling the remainder of his commission term.
■ Nov. 7, 2012, Bigelow was cited for allowing a teenager to drive his vehicle without a license. A search of the teen during revealed he was in possession of marijuana and cocaine. The teen told deputies that Bigelow uses cocaine regularly.
■ Nov. 8, 2012, Bigelow released a statement saying the allegations were “simply not true” and that the Sheriff’s Office had discriminated against him.
■ Dec. 11, 2012, Bigelow’s father, Charlie, also a fromer Lee commissioner, died of a heart attack.
■ Jan. 18, 2013, Bigelow was arrested for possession of cocaine, paraphernalia and loitering in the Brookside Village Apartments in Fort Myers.
POSTED 11/8/2012 Bigelow says drug allegations 'simply not true,' releases statement
POSTED 10/17/2012 Commissioner Bigelow linked to Fort Myers drug arrest