Police Report: Home BancShares' Ron Strother 'Under Stress Due to Employment' Before Death

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Feb. 1, 2010 2:45 pm  

Ron Strother in 2007 at the annual Tabriz fundraiser for the Arkansas Arts Center. Strother's body was found Sunday afternoon in a vehicle at the Centre at 10 shopping center in west Little Rock.

Ron W. Strother, the Home Bancshares president and chief operating officer who died Sunday, was "under stress due to his employment and was recently diagnosed with depression," according to a police report issued Monday.

The report, available here (PDF), said Strother's wife, Paula, told police she'd been out looking for her husband shortly before three Little Rock Fire Department members noticed a person slumped in the driver's seat of a gold 2007 GMC Yukon SUV in the parking lot in front of the Summit Bank branch at 12915 Cantrell Road in the Centre at 10 shopping center.

That person was Ron Strother, dead at 61 of a gunshot wound to the chest. Police, who found a pistol in the vehicle, are calling the incident a suicide. 

According to the report, Pamela said she'd been looking for her husband after he told her he was at a Starbucks at Sam Peck and Cantrell.

The report said the three firemen were at a nearby restaurant when they noted the person sitting slumped over in the vehicle. The men said the driver's side window was down and a green jacket was over the streering wheel. They told police the victim looked as if he'd be shot in the chest.

The firemen checked his vital signs and determined that he was dead, the report said. Police took the call at about 2:25 p.m.

"The entire Home BancShares Family is deeply saddened by the untimely death of Ron Strother today at around 3 p.m.," the company said in a news release Sunday night. "He was an integral part of our success over the last several years as well as a major contributor to his community. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time. We will release additional details and arrangements as they are made available."

Stock Drop

Shares of Home Bancshares (Nasdaq: HOMB) were trading down about 10 percent at about 9:40 a.m. Monday, but had rebounded somewhat by the afternoon, closing down about 6 percent.

The beating Home BancShares stock took in early trading on Monday "clearly has to do with the passing away of Ron Strother," said Andy Stapp, a senior analyst who covers Home BancShares for B. Riley & Co. of Philadelphia. "They've reported very good results, so it's got to be connected to Ron."

"I think there's [investor] concerns about fraud," he said, but he discounted those concerns. "No. 1, I know Ron and I can't believe he would be involved in any fraud and, No. 2, it should be covered by insurance, the bulk of it, if there was fraud. So I don't understand why the stock price would come off so much."

B. Riley downgraded its rating on Home BancShares stock from "buy" to "neutral" in a report issued Jan. 22 because the stock had - until Monday morning - very nearly reached B. Riley's target price of $27. (Click here to see his report.)

Stapp said he does not personally own any Home BancShares stock. He said he had not talked to any members of the HBI management team on Monday morning, although he had sent an e-mail asking where to send flowers to the Strother family.

8-K Statement from Home BancShares

Monday afternoon, Home BancShares issued a form 8-K notifying the Securities & Exchange Commission of Strother’s death.

In its entirety, it says:

"On January 31, 2010, Ron W. Strother, President, Chief Operating Officer and director of Home BancShares, Inc. (the Company) died. Mr. Strother also served as chairperson of the Company’s ALCO [Assets & Liability Committee] and Asset Quality committees. No appointments have been made at the time of this filing as to Mr. Strother’s successor.

"We extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Strother’s family. Mr. Strother was a valued member of the Company and will be greatly missed."

History

Strother was the highest ranking Arvest Bank officer in central Arkansas when he joined Home Bancshares in 2004 as the company prepared to go public.

Before joining Arvest, he was chairman and CEO of Central Bank & Trust in Little Rock, which was bought by Arvest in 2000.

Strother began his banking career with the former Commercial National Bank of Little Rock in 1973. Commercial National and First National Bank in Little Rock merged in 1983, and in 1990 he was named president and COO.

Strother and his family lived in the Valley Falls Estates neighborhood of west Little Rock. He - originally through an entity called Sugarloaf Estates LLC and then through a self-named revocable trust - bought the 6,500-SF house in March 2007 for a purported $1.9 million from 2610 Acres LLC, led by Valley Falls developer Rick Ferguson.

The property is currently listed for sale at more than $1.3 million.

The residence was put on the market at nearly $1.8 million on March 18, 2009. The listing price was reduced by $100,000 on May 19 before settling at $1.37 million on Nov. 11.

According to real estate records, the property is securing two mortgages totaling $782,000. Arvest Mortgage Co. of Lowell holds a first mortgage claim of $417,000, dating from February 2009, and Little Rock's Metropolitan National Bank holds a second mortgage claim of $365,000 dating from February 2008.

As president and COO of Home BancShares, Strother had an annual salary of $267,500 in both 2007 and 2008 and total compensation of about $400,000 in both of those years. Compensation information for 2009 is not yet available.

As of Jan. 22, according to a document filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission, he owned about 44,700 shares of Home BancShares stock, which was valued at more than$1 million, although some of it was restricted. He also had stock options for 77,760 shares at an exercise price of $11.73.

Strother's death comes less than a year after that of another prominent banking figure. In May, Tom Steves of North Little Rock, a longtime advertising executive and a marketing director for Home Bancshares' Twin City Bank, was killed in a motorcycle crash in northern Pulaski County. He was 68.

 

 

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