Atlanta doctor’s turn from activist to fugitive stuns community

Fugitive Atlanta doctor was once an activist on medical issues

Not so long ago, Kelly Thrasher was a young doctor seeing patients in a well-established medical practice on Atlanta’s northside. When he wasn’t at work, Thrasher was serving on the board of a prominent consumer organization and speaking publicly about controversial issues, including medical malpractice insurance and his belief that doctors shouldn’t be involved in executing prisoners.

But this week, his life dramatically altered, the physician became the target of a manhunt.

The hunt ended Wednesday night when U.S. Marshals, acting on a tip, found Thrasher at a Days Inn in Miami with about $30,000 in cash. Thrasher’s journey from practicing physician to fugitive started when Sandy Springs police investigated an abuse claim against him in late 2012. He was indicted on a child molestation charge in 2013 and was awaiting trial. He was re-arrested in January for practicing medicine after his license was suspended.

He was accused this week of obtaining a passport under a false name, adding identity fraud and forgery to the charges he faces. Sandy Springs police had alerted state and federal authorities to search for him when Thrasher failed to show up Tuesday to meet with detectives.

The idea that Thrasher, 41, was on the lam and is now facing a stack of serious charges is astonishing to some who knew him as an up-and-coming Atlanta doctor.

“He was my physician. I trusted him, I liked him,” said Doug Monroe, a former patient of Thrasher’s practice, who now lives in Milledgeville. “I am stunned and heartbroken by what I am reading in the paper.”

Nearly a decade ago, Thrasher and another doctor took over Dr. Thorne Winter’s medical office. Winter was a beloved Atlanta doctor who had practiced for 40 years and was ready to cut back on his hours. Thrasher, who had graduated from the Medical College of Georgia in 2001, was just getting started and embraced the chance to start working in Winter’s exam rooms.

Winter spent several months in the office with Thrasher, and the senior doctor liked what he saw.

“I was very comfortable with him,” Winter said. “He was an excellent diagnostician and excellent with patients.”

Regarding the allegations against Thrasher, Winter said, “It’s a complete shock.”

Thrasher’s defense attorney, Noah Pines, declined to comment. Thrasher is being held at a Miami detention center, awaiting extradition to Georgia, according to Sandy Springs police.

A Fulton County grand jury indicted Thrasher with molesting a juvenile girl. Sandy Springs police said the girl was a friend of one of Thrasher’s daughters and was attending a sleepover at his house.

With the charges pending, the Georgia Composite Medical Board in January 2013 issued a public order stating that Thrasher agreed to a suspension of his license. The order, which Thrasher signed, said Thrasher had entered Ridgeview Institute for "evaluation and/or treatment."

Thrasher’s wife filed for divorce last fall, according to court records.

The legal troubles are in stark contrast to a public profile Thrasher had been building since he obtained his Georgia medical license in 2003.

While many physicians, especially those just starting out, tend to keep a low profile, Thrasher did not.

In 2005, Thrasher was among a group of physicians who filed a legal complaint arguing that doctors should not play a role in executing prisoners who had been sentenced to the death penalty. The complaint argued that administering lethal injections would be in violation of medical ethics and state law and should be disciplined.

In 2006, Thrasher publicly criticized the insurance industry for continuing to increase medical malpractice insurance rates, even after getting a tort reform bill passed at the Capitol. Later that year, Thrasher also spoke out about problems at the powerful Medical Association of Georgia, a physician lobbying organization.

His public positions drew the attention of Georgia Watch, a statewide consumer organization, and he was invited to join the organization’s board, where he would serve over the years alongside former Gov. Roy Barnes and Clark Howard, the on-air consumer adviser.

Georgia Watch said this week that Thrasher resigned when his legal troubles began.

Danny Orrock, a former Georgia Watch staffer and a board member, said Thrasher seemed like an intelligent person who was easy to get along with.

Thrasher’s legal problems have been “pretty shocking to me and everybody I have spoken to who knows him,” Orrock said. “It’s not the sort of thing that anybody saw coming.”