Former resident is found dead at county home

Published 12:29 pm Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A former Vicksburg woman is dead of an undetermined cause, and a resident of the Warren County home where she was found faces charges that he tried to impede the investigation.

Bethan Shirley Smollen Pearson, 21, believed by authorities to live in New Orleans, was found dead at about 6:15 a.m. Monday in a bed at a home at 3700 Gowall Road, Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said.

Warren County Coroner Doug Huskey pronounced Pearson dead at 7:11 a.m.

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“I had an autopsy done on her yesterday. It’s pending,” said Huskey, adding he saw no signs of trauma.

Lance Burton, 22, 3700 Gowall Road, at whose home Pearson was found, was charged with tampering with physical evidence and obstruction of justice at the scene after trying to take Pearson’s cell phone from her purse, which deputies had picked up as part of the investigation.

“The phone might not be of any value to the investigation,” said Pace. “We will conduct a full death investigation to determine if a crime occurred.”

Burton was booked into the Warren County Jail at 7:26 Monday morning and was being held without bond, records show. He had been arrested last month and charged, along with three others, in a theft in May in the 4800 block of Oak Ridge Road in which components for outdoor metal buildings were taken. He was free on a $2,500 bond in that case, but state law doesn’t allow release of people arrested while on bond.

Pearson is survived by her husband, Blake Pearson, and her father, Joseph William Smollen V of Vicksburg.

She had attended Millsaps College, where she had been elected in 2009 to the Student Body Association Senate.

In 2008, she was accepted into the 3/3 Political Science/Pre-Law Program at Mississippi College, where she was named a dean’s scholar and received the Freshman Leadership Scholarship.

She had attended Mississippi School of the Arts in Brookhaven, concentrating in vocal music.

Arrangements will be under the direction of Fisher Funeral Home.