SALT LAKE CITY — Four years after he was diagnosed with a progressive form of dementia, former Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott died at 4 a.m. Thursday, his brother told the Deseret News.
Ott, 66, had been on hospice care in St. George for the past week, Marty Ott said.
"Alzheimer's is a tragic disease," he said, adding that the former recorder had been under medical care for the past nearly three months, but the disease took its toll.
"We hope he's remembered for what he was: a good, solid citizen who made contributions that were valuable to society," Marty Ott said. "He was a man with a great sense of humor and many friends, and again made his contributions for society. And that's what he should be remembered for."
Marty Ott said he and his sisters Kristine Williams and Kathy Chamberlain were at Gary Ott's bedside when he passed away.
Chamberlain and Williams were tearful when they answered the phone Thursday.
"He was surrounded by people that loved him," Chamberlain said. "He knew we were there. That's such a comfort to know that we were able to be there."
"It's the most heartbreaking thing in my life," Williams said. "I've had sad things in my life, but never like this. It's just so unfair."
Gov. Gary Herbert and other leaders shared condolences as news of Ott's death spread.
Herbert called the former recorder's passing "really a sad thing" and added that he "hoped (Ott's) declining years could have been a little more peaceful and restful."
"We all know the controversy that's taken place now, but let's dwell on Gary the person," the governor said during the taping of his monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7.
Ott was "a diligent public servant," the governor said. "He served to the best of his ability, and his skills were probably diminished because of health concerns over these last couple of years, but he was a good man and worked very hard in his office."
Ott served as Salt Lake County recorder from 2001 until August, when his resignation was negotiated between his family and county officials.
His death comes just days after a two-day court hearing in which Ott's siblings argued to maintain their temporary guardianship of their brother in opposition with Ott's former girlfriend, caretaker and employee, Karmen Sanone.
Ott's diagnosis, along with details of his finances being in shambles over the past several years while under Sanone's care, became public for the first time during those hearings.
Ott's top staffers, Sanone and his former chief deputy Julie Dole, have been accused by the former recorder's family and county employees of hiding his condition and taking advantage of him so they could remain in their appointed positions.
Both women continue to deny those accusations, though friends and former employees in Ott's office testified that his mental health problems started long before his 2014 campaign.
"I am heartbroken," Sanone said Thursday, adding that she was "disappointed and hurt" to find out about Ott's death from news reports. "It's a terrible way to find that somebody you loved, lived with and cared for has passed away."
Sanone said she was "devastated" that she couldn't be with Ott in his final moments because the family called police to have her removed from the medical facility on a trespassing charge, even though she had court permission to visit him.
"They would not allow me to spend his final hours with him after I've been with him for more than 10 years," she said.
Marty Ott said he and his siblings called St. George police to escort Sanone out because she was being disruptive.
"She accused us of creating a situation that resulted in Gary's condition worsening and that everything we were doing was wrong," he said. "We would have been happy to conduct with her a mature, civilized dialogue, but she wasn't interested in that sort of thing, and consequently she didn't want to cooperate and we did have to call the police department."
Sanone said Ott's siblings told her she only had 15 minutes with him, and "they constantly badgered me and were angry that I was trying to hold him and kiss him."
She said Ott had been "ambulatory and talking" when she visited him Sunday.
"He was coherent. He told me he didn't want to die," Sanone said.
Calls for 'justice'
Third District Judge Bruce Lubeck as of Thursday morning still hadn't issued a ruling on Ott's guardianship.
But state courts spokesman Geoff Fattah said Ott's death renders the court matter "moot."
"For all intents and purposes, this case will be closed," Fattah said.
However, if there are legal disputes over Ott's probate and estate, they would have to be handled in a separate case, he said.
During last week's court hearing, Sanone's attorney pointed out that Ott's condition declined rapidly while he was in his family's care. Previously, Sanone has lamented that Ott was in a "lockdown" facility rather than enjoying life on her Weber County farm.
"I think it's unfortunate he spent the last almost four months of his life locked away from his friends and the family that he loved," she said. "He couldn't go out. He was not able to go to his favorite restaurant, or go out and visit his friends. That was all taken away from him when they took him away from his home."
Dole said in an email Thursday she was "deeply saddened" by Ott's "untimely death," adding that she learned of his condition last week "with everyone else."
Dole also repeated her testimony from court Friday, telling of how she agreed to witness Ott sign a health care directive document in 2015 nominating Sanone as a guardian because he didn't want what happened to his mother — who died after being admitted into a care facility under his siblings' direction — to happen to him.
"It appears that the fears he shared with me … came true," she said. "He expressly said he would NEVER want his siblings to care for him or he would meet an untimely death like his mother did, seemingly so they could have more of her estate.
"I believe from all reports that Gary met an untimely death due to his siblings' decisions, which I do not believe took any consideration of what Gary wanted, nor his quality of life," Dole continued. "He should have been allowed to spend his last days with his pets and life partner on the farm, not locked in a confined space."
Marty Ott said such accusations are "absolute nonsense."
"Everything we did, all of our efforts were focused on his welfare and absolute best help we could find for him," he said, crediting medical providers in the facilities for "bending over backward" to make the former recorder as comfortable as possible.
"When you watch a loved one go from being normal and in good health," Mary Ott said, "… it takes a terrible toll."
He said his brother had "the misfortune of crossing trails with folks who understood what his condition was and found a way to take advantage of it, and that's reprehensible."
Chamberlain said Gary Ott was "tormented" and "paraded around like a clown" for the final years of his life.
For him to be "released from that," she said, "we feel happy for Gary."
Chamberlain said she hopes people remember Ott as the "kind and gentle" person he was.
"We know that he contributed great things to his office when he was working. We want people to remember that," she said.
"I think there was probably a time when Gary and Karmen were good for each other," Williams said, "but unfortunately, it turned sour, and it was a disaster."
Ott's siblings all said they wished the court case had been resolved before their brother's death. But now they hope Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill's ongoing investigation will bring "justice" for their brother.
"We're not vindictive people," Chamberlain said. "But those two women, they can't walk away from this."
Marty Ott said with all the information that came out in court last week, Gill "has got a case presented to him on a silver platter."
"I think these folks over the last number of years have been quite honestly involved in criminal behavior, committed fraud, committed conspiracy to commit fraud," he said.
"All the information is clearly there. We would hope that (Gill) would recognize that, pursue charges, seek justice and seek a conviction, because that will send a message to other people who may be inclined to take advantage of somebody who can't take care of themselves."
After learning of Ott's death, Jake Parkinson, chairman of the Salt Lake County Republican Party, was audibly angry and frustrated that Gill hadn't acted sooner.
"If Gary Ott, an elected official with every political connection in the world, can't be protected, what hope does the average person have Sim Gill will protect them?" Parkinson said.
"The abuse continued, and (Gill) did nothing," he said.
The county Republican Party recently punished Dole following an investigation into her ethics in the matter.
In the party's investigation, "we interviewed people from the party that were interviewed by Sim Gill's team and said all those things that were said in those hearings last week," Parkinson said. "Nothing was new. There was no new information presented; it's just now public, and (Gill) has to act because it's public information."
The Salt Lake County Republican Party is planning to hold a news conference next week to call out Gill's "inaction," he said.
"(Ott) was a great elected official, and it's just tragic that the last two years have played out the way they have," Parkinson said.
But Gill said new information has surfaced from last week's court hearing, and his team has been "monitoring it very closely."
"I can absolutely assure you that if there is an articulable violation that has evidence, we will pursue that. But remember, we do work within the parameters of the law and admissible evidence, and so all of those things are challenges," he said.
The investigation has been in Gill's office for months, after the Utah Attorney General's Office first got the complaint last fall. Gill said building a case takes time.9 comments on this story
"I think one needs to recognize it wasn't like we had this wealth of information that came in and we were just waiting to make a decision to charge," Gill said. "It's about actually putting these cases together. … Sometimes you can put those pieces together; other times you can't because we have to do it based on admissible evidence, not hearsay. We have to do it on witnesses, not speculation.
"But like everybody else, we share the same concern about making sure there is justice here," he added. "We're committed to that. Nothing has taken that resolve away from us."
Gill said he was "terribly saddened" by Ott's death.
"One can maybe hope that the last little while he was surrounded with care that he deserved," he said.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche