WILLIAMSON, W.Va. – The man suspected of killing a West Virginia sheriff as he ate lunch in his car was mentally disturbed and had no particular vendetta against law enforcement, his father told the Associated Press Thursday.
Melvin Maynard said his 37-year-old son, Tennis Melvin Maynard, was exposed to harmful chemicals and injured while working at an Alabama coal mine. He most likely did not target Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum, he said.
“He would have probably shot anybody, the first one he come to, you know what I’m saying?” the elder Maynard said.
“I know he was off. I know he should have been in a hospital,” the father said, adding that his son had previously been in an institution. He refused to elaborate, saying only that “the same problem was eating him again.”
Witnesses told police Maynard was alone when he shot Crum, and investigators still haven’t determined why he shot the sheriff, said Dave Rockel, the Mingo County Drug Task Force commander and Williamson police chief.
Crum had been in office just three months before he was killed Wednesday afternoon, making good on a campaign pledge to help rid the southern coalfields of the illegal prescription drug trade blamed for thousands of addictions and overdoses.
Friends say he was shot to death in the spot where he parked most days, keeping an eye on a place that had been shut down for illegally dispensing prescription drugs to be sure it didn’t reopen.
Tennis Maynard was shot and wounded by a Mingo deputy in a chase following the attack on Crum. State police say he crashed his car into a bridge in his hometown of Delbarton, then got out and pointed a weapon at the deputy, who fired in self-defense.
State police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous said Tennis Maynard is expected to survive and remained at Cabell Huntington Hospital in Huntington Thursday.
Maynard has been charged with murder in Crum’s death and attempted murder in the incident with the deputy, authorities said.
Before Crum’s death, Maynard had never faced criminal charges in West Virginia, according to county and state records. Baylous said state police had responded to past incidents involving Maynard, though he declined to elaborate.
The mental health problems described by Maynard’s father appear to stem from a lightning strike near a drilling rig at Drummond Co.’s Shoal Creek mine June 27, 2007. Tennis Maynard sued more than two dozen people and companies in 2009 over injuries he said he suffered at the mine. A lightning strike sparked an explosion, which news reports at the time said injured six people.
The lawsuit doesn’t detail the nature of his physical injuries or say exactly what happened. But Maynard claimed he endured “extreme, severe, prolonged emotional and mental pain and suffering,” depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the incident.
The mine west of Birmingham had been cited for a string of safety problems and had been shut down for six months the year before the lightning strike, when methane gas ignited and the mine flooded.
The case had been put on hold, and a hearing was set for August.
Maynard’s attorney in that case, Craig Lowell, didn’t immediately return telephone and email messages.
Meanwhile, Crum’s death shook the state, with lawmakers and others at the Capitol wearing black ribbons and law enforcement wearing black stripes on their badges.
Residents had praised the former police chief’s new drug crackdown, dubbed Operation Zero Tolerance. It already had led to dozens of indictments, so his friends and supporters couldn’t help but suspect a connection to his death.
The fight against prescription drugs has been a high-profile one joined by federal authorities who say they have prosecuted 200 pill dealers in the past two years. The epicenter has been the southern coalfields, including Crum’s Mingo County, a region with a violent past. It saw battles in the legendary feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families, and was dubbed “Bloody Mingo when unionizing miners battled security agents hired by coal companies in the early 20th century.
Dallas Toler was appointed to take Crum’s magistrate position a year ago when Crum stepped down to campaign for sheriff.
Their goal was mutual: to put a big dent in drug trafficking in the county.
“At least four or five of us have gotten threats,” Toler said. “Any time you come in and make an impact on dope and drugs, it’s just part of the course. Eugene made a big lick on drugs down here. We all have.”
Toler, still in shock, couldn’t say whether he feels safe.
“Anything can happen,” he said. “This could have been any one of us.”
On a sign in the parking lot where Crum died, Chris and Christina Endicott scrawled a note expressing love for Crum and his wife, Rosie.
“You are family. The best sheriff Mingo has ever seen,” they wrote. “Our hearts are broken, along with Mingo County. We love you so much.”
Rosie Crum was appointed interim sheriff Thursday, in a move that has widespread support among deputies and is a nod to Crum’s legacy, said Mingo County Commission President Mark Humphrey.
“We thought that was what the people of Mingo County would want,” he said.
Although there is no indication of any 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.
Those bold killings and others have led authorities to propose more protection for law enforcers.