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Published: Friday, 5/7/2004

Man sought in kids' abuse kills himself

An Ottawa County man being sought on charges that he sexually assaulted two children shot himself to death along a northern Michigan highway as sheriff's deputies approached his disabled truck, authorities said yesterday.

Sparky Bowman, 47, of Clay Township, died slumped against a road sign about 11 p.m. Wednesday on U.S. 31 near the town of Levering in Emmet County, about 300 miles north of Toledo.

Ottawa County Prosecutor Mark Mulligan said Mr. Bowman was charged Monday with three counts of rape and one count of bribery. According to the prosecutor, Mr. Bowman engaged in sexual conduct repeatedly with an 11-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy in his home on Martin-Williston Road between

June, 2003, and March or April of this year.

Mr. Mulligan said authorities believe Mr. Bowman, also known by the first names Clarence and Nick, fled northwest Ohio to avoid arrest and was heading for Canada. Emmet County Sheriff Peter Wallin said two deputies from his office were dispatched at 10:41 p.m. Wednesday on a report that a vehicle was in a ditch along the northbound shoulder of U.S. 31.

The deputies found a black Chevy Tahoe with Ohio license plates and learned that its owner, Mr. Bowman, was wanted by checking the vehicle's plate in a national computerized data bank.

As the deputies got out of their cruiser, they heard a loud "popping" noise, Sheriff Wallin said. They approached the vehicle and saw Mr. Bowman's body leaning against a street sign, a 12-gauge shotgun in his hands. He had a wound in the head.

A short time earlier, Mr. Bowman checked into a motel about 100 yards north of where his sport utility vehicle was stuck, Sheriff Wallin said.

"He had told the clerk that his vehicle was in the ditch, and he asked if police patrolled the area a lot, and he said, 'Well, I'm going to go back and put a note on the car,'‚óŹ'' the sheriff said. "He didn't make it, though."

Mr. Mulligan said authorities became aware of the allegations against Mr. Bowman when a family member of one of the children contacted the sheriff's office April 23. The sheriff's office, in turn, notified the Ottawa County Department of Job and Family Services, which began an investigation.

A day after charges were filed Monday, county and state authorities searched Mr. Bowman's house and removed computer equipment, videotapes, and a tape from an 8mm videocamera, Mr. Mulligan said.

He said some of the videos "appear to be professionally made pornographic tapes."

According to authorities, Mr. Bowman was prosecuted in Kentucky several years ago on charges of passing bad checks.

Mr. Bowman was an entrepreneur who owned a variety of businesses at different times, including a truck stop at State Rt. 2 and Stadium Road in Oregon and the former East River Limousines. Most recently, he operated HomeLink, a builder of modular homes, from his residence.

Mr. Bowman stoked controversy from the early 1980s to the early 1990s as a reporter for the Suburban Press, a weekly newspaper based in Millbury.

"He was very aggressive in that area," said Bob Bratton, chief deputy of the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office. "He was the type, he'd go into your office, and if he saw something sitting on your desk, he'd pick it up and look at it, because to him, that was a public record."

Chief Deputy Bratton, who was a Northwood police detective at the time, said he was one of several law enforcement officers who drove limousines for Mr. Bowman while off duty in the 1980s.

The chief deputy said he was stunned by the allegations against Mr. Bowman.

"I'll say he was a friend," Chief Bratton said. "It was a flaw I didn't catch."

During a phone conversation Monday, Mr. Bowman denied abusing the children, the chief deputy said. When they spoke, Chief Deputy Bratton said, he didn't know charges were being filed against Mr. Bowman.

"He never admitted to me that he did anything, but he left, and now look at his actions," the chief deputy said.

- STEVE MURPHY



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