Former Lucas County Auditor Larry Kaczala, once the lone Republican county officeholder, died yesterday after apparently jumping from a parking garage at Toledo Hospital.
Mr. Kaczala, 53, of Ottawa Hills was pronounced dead at the hospital after the 11:35 a.m. incident on the fifth level of the parking garage connecting the Conrad Jobst and Harris McIntosh towers, said Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre.
Dr. James Patrick, the Lucas County coroner, said his office will schedule an autopsy. He said the evidence so far indicated a deliberate jump, but a final ruling would not be made until the results of all tests are in.
Longtime friends, co-workers, and fellow officeholders were saddened by the loss of a man they described as a straight shooter, a diehard campaigner, and an innovative leader.
“Larry was always kind of fun and easy to work with,” said former County Administrator Mike Beazley. “He brought a nice, sardonic sense of humor to his day, and he brought a cooperative approach to public service that I thought served him well.”
Former County Recorder Sue Rioux said she was heartsick.
“He was always a smart, bright guy, a lot of fun, and a really tough competitor,” said Ms. Rioux, a Democrat. “He was always a delight to work with. If there was a difference, we always managed to make sure it wasn't anything major. We were opposite parties, but it never made a difference.”
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A graduate of Central Catholic High School, the University of Toledo, and its law school, Mr. Kaczala was first elected to Toledo City Council in 1991. He had headed the property tax division in the county auditor's office from 1982 to 1989 and was selected in 1993 by the Lucas County GOP to replace former Auditor David Lewandowski when Mr. Lewandowski became a Domestic Relations judge.
Mr. Kaczala won three consecutive elections to the county auditor's post but was defeated in his bid for a fourth term in 2006 by Democrat Anita Lopez.
Jerry German, who worked in the auditor's office as director of the real estate division and chief assessor, said he didn't think Mr. Kaczala ever bounced back from the loss of his job as auditor.
“He was only two years, maybe two and a half years, away from retirement, before he had 30 years in and for some reason he was branded,” Mr. German said. “He was a pariah. No one would hire him or let him finish out his last two and a half years to get his retirement, and I am sure that was a contributing factor. … That had to hurt. It was devastating to him, I'm sure.”
Mr. Kaczala made an unsuccessful bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) in 2004, a campaign that many felt cost him the auditor's race two years later because it allowed Ms. Lopez to raise the fact that convicted GOP fund-raiser Tom Noe and his wife, Bernadette, gave Mr. Kaczala $6,000 for his run for Congress.
Mr. Kaczala was interviewed by FBI agents investigating conduits who were used by Noe to make illegal contributions to the Bush campaign, but Mr. Kaczala was not charged. There was no evidence he had accepted Noe's money, although that did not help him at election time.
“Most people don't know he was investigated by the FBI through that whole thing and was one of the only politicians in town who came out with a clean bill of health. Everyone still tried to connect him with the Noes,” Mr. German said. “That innuendo was devastating. He was turned out of office way too soon. He was a relatively young guy, and he ran the office honestly and forthrightly.”
In 2007, Mr. Kaczala ran unsuccessfully for Toledo Municipal Court judge.
Any signs of Mr. Kaczala's late morning jump were gone from the parking lot structure by early afternoon. There was no yellow tape or posted notices, and hospital visitors went to and from their vehicles seemingly oblivious to what had occurred there earlier.
Sitting apart from the rows of other parked vehicles on the open-air parking deck was Mr. Kaczala's bright blue Mercedes-Benz compact coupe. The car's doors were locked, though visible inside near the gear shift panel was a pack of Marlboro cigarettes, a lighter, reading glasses, a pen, and two open cans of caffeine-free Diet Coke.
Alone in the leather-upholstered backseat sat a stuffed white toy elephant wearing stars of red, white, and blue.
Ohio attorney registration rec ords show Mr. Kaczala had registered “inactive” last September, which meant he was not practicing law in the state. He had been doing some consulting work with other county auditor's offices.
Mr. German said Mr. Kaczala was recognized far beyond Lucas County for his accomplishments as county auditor, particularly in the area of technology and public records.
Lucas County was one of the first counties to make real estate records available online, he said, and the county was a pioneer in integrating its computer-assisted mass appraisal and geographic information systems.
Lucas County Clerk of Courts Bernie Quilter, a Democrat, said Mr. Kaczala chaired the county's data processing committee and put Mr. Quilter in charge of a subcommittee to develop a county document imaging system under the clerk's office in 2003. That system now handles imaging for about 16 county agencies and saves money by eliminating duplication, Mr. Quilter said.
“He was always the type to move the county in a new direction, always bringing in new technology,” Mr. Quilter said. “He received numerous awards when he was auditor.”
As a politician, Mr. Kaczala was “a fierce campaigner,” said Jon Stainbrook, the Lucas County Republican Party chairman.
“He was one of those people who did not just walk door to door in Sylvania or Ottawa Hills — he represented every part of Lucas County,” said Mr. Stainbrook, who in the 1990s worked in the auditor's office as director of public relations.
“I was with him on a lot of those walks. He would go to every Block Watch meeting. You could pick up the phone and make a call if you had a problem and he would make sure that problem was solved,” Mr. Stainbrook said.
He said party headquarters was flooded with calls from shocked Republicans yesterday. He said he had talked to Mr. Kaczala as recently as a week ago and recalled that he had showed up at an event for GOP candidates at Packo's at the Park downtown on April 28.
“We all need to look back on what a great human being he was, from the fact that he donated a kidney to his sister who needed one, and he represented the county for many years as an upstanding officeholder,” Mr. Stainbrook said.
Mr. Kaczala and his wife, Gina-Marie, had no children. In 1992, he donated a kidney to his older sister, Sharon Fickel.
Middle-aged adults such as Mr. Kaczala have shown the highest rates of suicide in the United States. A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that adults ages 45 to 54 have registered the most suicides of all age groups since 2006.
Dr. Paula Clayton, medical director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said yesterday that about 90 percent of people who kill themselves have some type of mental disorder at the time of death. Disorders often include undiagnosed depression.
Toledo police are investigating Mr. Kaczala's death. Chief Navarre said police were reviewing surveillance video from the parking garage but he declined to discuss specifics of the investigation.
Toledo City Council observed a moment of silence in tribute to Mr. Kaczala during its meeting yesterday afternoon.
Blade staff writers Tom Troy, JC Reindl, and Carl Ryan contributed to this report.
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