The disappearance of Tommy Brailey, a 52-year-old man who was last seen at a Sumter bar at the end of August, is proving to be a puzzling case for investigators. He reportedly planned to attend a football game the week after he was last seen, and his family and law enforcement close to the case seem to think his absence was not his intention.
Since he has been missing, Brailey's family has maintained he is someone who always checks in. An impromptu news conference at the Sumter Police Department on Monday helped solidify that point.
Lt. Charles Banghart, an investigator with the department, said Brailey, described by multiple family members as an avid sports fan, had already purchased tickets to the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Carolina Panthers game in Charlotte scheduled for Aug. 31. Brailey planned to go to the game with family and friends, he said.
Tommy Brailey's sister, Sheila Brailey, said her brother is a big Steelers fan and loves sports so much that people in his neighborhood used to come to his house to watch the games. It has not been the same to watch without him, she said.
Brailey, a Lee County resident and employee of Continental Tire the Americas, was last seen leaving Brewer's Bar and Grill, 160 E. Wesmark Blvd., about 2 a.m. on Aug. 25. He has brown eyes and black hair, is 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs about 165 pounds.
On that night he was seen wearing blue jeans and a polo shirt with his company's logo on it.
His wife, Mildred Solomon-Brailey, said that was the first time Tommy was a patron at Brewer's and that he went for a co-worker's birthday.
Banghart said the investigation began with normal procedures: searching the area where he was last seen and the area around his home, interviewing family and friends and checking the 10- to 15-minute route from the bar to his home.
The search has been assisted by several vehicles, including ATVs, a helicopter from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and a plane from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, Banghart said.
He said the trail is harder to track than other cases because of how abruptly Brailey went missing.
Banghart said camera footage from the bar shows Brailey leave the building, get into his silver 2004 BMW 325i with S.C. license tag LYB 406 and turn out of the parking lot, confirming he left the bar and did not appear to be followed.
To add to the mystery, there has been no activity from his bank account or his cellphone. Foul play has been neither officially suspected nor ruled out. No solid leads have been developed.
Banghart said information about Brailey's car has been submitted into law enforcement and community databases but that there have been no matches.
During their search for Brailey, investigators came across the National Institute of Justice National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. The system includes three databases with information about missing people, unidentified people and unclaimed people.
The police department and family have collected much of the information needed to include Brailey in the missing person database, Banghart said.
Because NamUs is a public website, there are many citizens who check the site looking to help find or identify people, he said.
The missing man's sister said their family has set up a $2,000 reward for information that leads to her brother.