Mingo sheriff gunned down 'in broad daylight'
WILLIAMSON, W.Va. -- The newly elected Mingo County sheriff, intent on cleaning up the county's drug problem, was gunned down at midday Wednesday in downtown Williamson.
Williamson resident Larry Dove said he saw a man shoot Sheriff Eugene Crum "right in the head," in a parking lot on Third Avenue.
Tennis Melvin Maynard, 37, of Delbarton, has been arrested in connection to the shooting, according to West Virginia State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous.
Baylous said a Mingo sheriff's deputy spotted Maynard in a car near Delbarton after the shooting and chased him. He said Maynard wrecked his car and jumped out, pointing a gun at the deputy.
The deputy opened fire, Baylous said, striking Maynard several times. He was taken to Cabell-Huntington Hospital, but Baylous said he did not know the suspect's condition.
Williamson Police Chief Dave Rockel will take over the sheriff's department until a new sheriff is appointed, Mingo County Emergency Services Director Jarod Fletcher said at a news conference.
Crum took office in January. He had campaigned on ridding the county of illegal drugs, particularly the illicit use of prescription painkillers.
Delegate Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, chairman of the House Finance Committee, said Crum had been aggressive as a county magistrate in setting up a drug task force with local police departments.
White said, "In most people's opinion," the drug task force "had done a terrific job of cleaning up drugs in the county.
"Drugs are a terrible plague and scourge facing much of Southern West Virginia, but at least here in Mingo County, Eugene was working very hard to eradicate this problem prior to becoming the sheriff but had stayed aggressive in his pursuit in stopping pill mills around the county," White said in a prepared statement.
'His whole dream was to be sheriff'
Williamson has had a reputation for prescription drug abuse for several years and some have referred to the town as "Pilliamson."
A notable case is that of Dr. Diane Shafer. Shafer operated a notorious Williamson pill mill in the early 2000s and pleaded guilty in May 2012 to conspiracy to misuse her Drug Enforcement Administration registration number.
The plea was the result of a federal investigation that began about four years ago, examining Shafer's doling out of more than 118,000 prescriptions since 2003.
Dallas and Dollie Toler parked their truck near the scene Wednesday evening and cried together. Dallas said he took over as chief magistrate in Mingo County after Crum quit to run for sheriff.
"His whole dream was to be sheriff," Dollie Toler said. "He wanted to stop the drug trade around here, and it cost him his life."
Dallas Toler said the night Crum was elected sheriff was one of the happiest he'd ever seen him.
Crum's wife, Rosie, was visiting their two children, Julie and Bud, in Indiana when she learned of the shooting Wednesday, Dollie Toler said. She got on a plane with her children and deputies were expected to escort the family from Yeager Airport late Wednesday.
"To think he was gunned down in broad daylight highlights the dangerous position our men and women in law enforcement place themselves in every day," White said in the statement.
Each day, Crum would buy lunch at a restaurant across from the courthouse, and would eat it in his parked car and observe a pill mill, which recently had been shut down, White said.
"Unfortunately, this unselfish act became the scene at which he was killed in broad daylight," Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, an assistant prosecutor in Mingo County, said in a statement.
That was a daily routine he began that many Williamson residents got familiar with.
Loretta Cline said she often would see Crum in his SUV at the lot on Harvey Street. He would wave or smile at her and her children, she said.
"You could tell he cared about people, and didn't care to stop and talk to anyone," Cline said.
A Starters Restaurant employee, who didn't want to give her name, said Crum often dined at the Second Avenue restaurant, which is about a block away from where the shooting occurred.
"He was a great guy," she said. "We finally had a really good sheriff. It's a tragedy for the small town."
Marcum said Crum was a "true friend to the county" and a "strong fighter of the drug trade in Mingo."
"I'm very proud of the work he's done as sheriff," Marcum said. "He's going to be dearly missed."
Before serving as a magistrate, Crum was the chief of the Delbarton Police Department.
Longtime friend and Williamson lawyer Tim Koontz said Crum was able to see both sides of the legal system because of his work as a police officer and magistrate.
"He followed not only the letter of the law, he carried both the sword and the shield," Koontz said. He said Crum was concerned with protecting the public, and also with protecting the rights of the accused.
"The fact that they brought out [Maynard] alive is testament to the training they had, and the insistence he had that they do things right. Gene would have wanted it that way."
Koontz said Crum began investigating Mingo County's drug scene even before he was elected sheriff. He hit the ground running, organizing a major drug sting not long after taking office.
"Gene was politically blind when it came to arresting people," Koontz said. He said it didn't matter if a suspect was the relative of a police officer or a local politician, "He got them all."
Marcum said in a statement the work Crum did for Mingo County will be remembered for years to come.
"Now is the time to come together as a community and be there for one another - to remember and honor Eugene Crum.
"I will continue to pray for him and his family in their time of need," Marcum said, "and I ask all of you to do the same."
'I respected that guy'
Kanawha County Magistrate Kim Aaron, who attended magistrate school with Crum, said she is devastated by the news of Crum's death.
"I feel like somebody has punched me in the stomach," she said.
Aaron said Crum gave up his magistrate's seat to run for sheriff. "He wanted to clean up Mingo County," she said. "I respected that guy immensely."
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said in a statement, "It's shocking any time a law enforcement officer is killed. I've spoken to Col. [C.R. Jay] Smithers, and the West Virginia State Police will be leading the investigation into the matter.
"I've pledged the assistance of my office and other federal investigative agencies as such assistance is needed."
At Wednesday's news conference, Rockel was joined by the entire sheriff's department on the Mingo County Courthouse steps, asking for prayers for Crum's family.
"We lost a good man today," Rockel said through tears.
Rockel declined to take questions about the shooting because he said it is under investigation. He did not name the suspect but said he was being questioned by the State Police.
Mingo County Commission President John Mark Hubbard said another news conference will be held at the courthouse at 3 p.m. today. A candlelight vigil will be held there at 8 tonight.
"To say Eugene will be missed is a vast understatement," Hubbard said.
Hubbard said a fund has been created at Community Trust Bank to benefit Crum's family.
The last time an officer was shot in the line of duty in Mingo County was Chattaroy Police Constable Fitchue Bee Barker, who was killed in September 1967, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page website.
Mingo County Deputy Flem Johnson was shot and killed on April 20, 1946, according to the site. Matewan police officer Raymond Charles Perkins was shot on June 14, 1959 during a traffic stop, slipping into a coma from which he never recovered.
Most recently, on Aug. 28, 2012, West Virginia State Police Trooper Eric Workman and Cpl. Marshall Lee Bailey were shot in the line of duty.
The website says 197 West Virginia police officers have died in the line of duty, 136 of them from deliberate gunfire.
More than 100 reflections remembering Crum had been left on the site as of Wednesday night.
Staff writers Phil Kabler, Eric Eyre and Kathryn Gregory contributed to this report.
Reach Travis Crum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5163.
Reach Rusty Marks at email@example.com or 304-348-1215.