WILLIAMSON, W.Va. – A sheriff known for cracking down on the drug trade in southern West Virginia’s coalfields was fatally shot Wednesday in the spot where he usually parked his car for lunch, a state official said, and a suspect was in custody.
State police told Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin that Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum died of his wounds, said his chief of staff Rob Alsop.
State police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous identified the suspect as 37-year-old Tennis Melvin Maynard and said he was being treated at Cabell Huntington Hospital in Huntington for gunshot wounds late Wednesday. Baylous said the suspect’s condition was unknown, but Maynard was shot by a sheriff’s deputy after a short pursuit in Delbarton that ended with Maynard crashing his car.
The shooting was blocks from the county courthouse that was evacuated after the shooting. Streets into the city were temporarily blocked off and officers held white sheets around the crime scene, Crum’s body further shielded by two vehicles.
Though there is no indication of any direct connection, Crum’s killing comes on the heels of a Texas district attorney and his wife being shot to death in their home over the weekend, and just weeks after Colorado’s corrections director also was gunned down at his home.
Delegate Harry Keith White, who campaigned with Crum last year, said his friend was shot to death in the same place where he parked his car most days to eat lunch, near the site of a former pharmacy known for illegally distributing pills.
“I think anybody you ask would tell you he was a great guy, always with a positive attitude, always trying to help people,” White said. “It’s just a sad, sad day for Mingo County and the state of West Virginia.”
Soon after he took office this year, Crum led a drug task force and an initiative called Operation Zero Tolerance, making good on a campaign pledge, White said. State, federal and local authorities have all tried to crack down on West Virginia’s drug problem, which centers on the illegal sale of prescription drugs in the southern counties. Mingo County is in the southwest corner of West Virginia, on the border with Kentucky.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says West Virginia has the second-highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the nation. And in February, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said it had prosecuted more than 200 pill dealers in the past two years.
Kenneth Jude, 23, of Chatteroy, has known Crum his whole life and believes he was targeted because of his crusade.
“They shouldn’t scare cops into not wanting to do their jobs,” he said.
“It’s people like that that give this place a bad name – somebody that would do something that stupid, to kill somebody that’s trying to make it a better place,” Jude said. “You wouldn’t think something like that would happen, especially in the middle of town.”
Jerry Cline stood near the site of Crum’s slaying hours later, recalling how Crum watched the traffic and the community but “never messed with nobody unless they were violating the law.”
Authorities have not said whether the shooting was related to Crum’s drug crackdown, but it was on Cline’s mind.
“He told them right before he got in as sheriff, ‘If you’re dealing drugs, I’m coming after you. I’m cleaning this town up,”’ Cline said. “ … He got out just to do one thing, and that’s to clean this town up. That’s all that man tried to do.”
Cline’s wife, Loretta, said the sheriff was a good friend to everyone, even those who barely knew him.
“Once you meet him one time, it’s like you’ve known him all your life,” she said. “Every time you’d see him, he was always the same. He always had a smile on his face. He was a very loving person.”
Crum had resigned his post as a county magistrate before launching his sheriff’s campaign as a signal of integrity, preferring to run as a civilian rather than an official, White said.
He won the primarily handily and ran unopposed in the general election in the fall.
Crum had been a magistrate for 12 years and had previously served as police chief in Delbarton.
Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo and an assistant county prosecutor, called Crum “a true friend to the county.”
“He’ll be dearly missed,” he said.
Williamson, a town of about 3,200, sits along the Tug Fork River in a part of the state long associated with violence. Mingo and neighboring McDowell County are home to the legendary blood feud between the Hatfield family of West Virginia and the McCoy family of Kentucky, a conflict dating to the Civil War.
Crum’s county was dubbed “Bloody Mingo” during the early 20th century mine wars, when unionizing miners battled Baldwin-Felts security agents hired by the coal operators.
In May 1920, after evicting striking miners in Red Jacket, some of the Baldwin-Felts men tried to board a train in nearby Matewan but were confronted by the mayor and the chief of police, Sid Hatfield, a former miner, who had family ties to the Hatfields in the feud.
After a gun battle recreated in the 1987 John Sayles film “Matewan,” the mayor, two miners, a bystander and three agents lay dead. Hatfield became a hero but was gunned down on the courthouse steps a year later in Matewan.
In the slayings of the Texas district attorney and his wife, officials suspect a white supremacist prison gang. Those killings happened a couple of months after one of the county’s assistant district attorneys was killed near his courthouse office.
Over the last century, 14 prosecutors have been killed, according to news reports and statistics kept by the National District Attorneys Association. At least eight of them were targeted in the line of duty.
Colorado’s corrections director, Tom Clements, was killed March 19 when he answered the doorbell at his home outside Colorado Springs. Two days later, Evan Spencer Ebel, a white supremacist and former Colorado inmate suspected of shooting Clements, died in a shootout about 100 miles from Kaufman.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin called Crum’s killing “shocking” and said he’s spoken to the State Police, which will lead the investigation. He pledged the assistance of his office and whatever other federal agencies are needed.
The Officer Down Memorial Page says 197 police officers in West Virginia have died in the line of duty, 136 of them from deliberate gunfire.