Deputy laid to rest

Published 8:09 am Wednesday, September 2, 2009

COURTLAND—Hundreds of mourners, many of them in uniform from police, fire and rescue departments from around the region, came to pay their respects and say goodbye Monday to Christopher Darby Ray, a 22-year-old Southampton County deputy who was killed in a car accident Saturday morning.

“Deputy Ray was a very energetic, caring, giving young man who was very excited about his career,” Southampton County Sheriff Vernie Francis said. “He was going to bring a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and energy to the department. He’s going to be deeply, deeply missed.”

Ray, who had just joined the sheriff’s department on June 1, was killed when the police cruiser he was a passenger in crashed into a tree. The driver, Deputy Jason Brinkley, was injured in the crash.

“You and I will remember Christopher Ray, and we will discover both pain and joy in the remembering,” the Rev. James W. Browder III said during Monday’s burial service at Riverside Cemetery in Courtland. “We will weep for Christopher, who is no longer with us. And my friends, you and I will weep for ourselves. But we also can, and we will, trust in the God who will wipe away all our tears, and for whom all of us, the living and the dead, have life now and life forever.”

Tyson McClenny then spoke about his friend.

“Over the last couple of days, I have tried so hard to find that one story that would exemplify his life and what he meant to all of us,” McClenny said. “But the problem is that every moment spent with Chris was a story in itself. No matter the circumstances, he made every person around him happier just by his presence alone. He was the funniest person any of us ever knew and the best friend any man could ask for. Truly great friends are hard to find, difficult to leave and impossible to forget.”

McClenny added, “Although Chris is gone, I think each of us can honestly say that we have something that he has left us with that we can hold on to and pass on to our next generation.”

After the funeral, John Barksdale spoke about the friend he made in pre-kindergarten and had been close to for 17 years.

“Growing up, I spent more nights with Chris than I did without,” Barksdale said. “He was a great friend to everyone, and loved having a good time and being with his friends. He loved being outdoors.”

On Ray’s career in law enforcement, Barksdale said, “He loved being a deputy, it was what he always wanted to do. He was going to attend the police academy in October. He eventually wanted to join a federal agency, but he was going to do five years here first.”

Another friend, Ben Lane, echoed that sentiment.

“It takes a special person to be in law enforcement,” Lane said. “He was doing what he loved to do.”

On Saturday, Virginia State Police 1st Sgt. K.J. Whitley said the single-vehicle accident that killed Ray occurred at 5:20 a.m. on Virginia Route 671, or General Thomas Highway, about a mile west of Shady Brook Trail, Virginia Route 650 and the Hercules chemical plant.

Whitley said Ray and Brinkley were responding to a call about a fight in Newsoms.

“A tree had fallen across the road from the storm,” Whitley said. “They swerved to avoid the tree, apparently lost control and ran off the road to the right and struck (another) tree.” Road conditions were dry at the time of the accident.

Whitley said Brinkley was transported to Southampton Memorial Hospital for treatment. The sheriff’s office later confirmed that Brinkley was treated there for “non-life threatening injuries” and then released.

Brinkley previously served as a police officer in Franklin, but resigned last year after being arrested in Suffolk and charged with driving under the influence. He later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving.

Brinkley had some small cuts on his face, but was in uniform and attended Ray’s funeral. Visibly shaken, he hugged members of Ray’s family, friends and fellow co-workers afterwards.

According to the sheriff’s office, Ray joined the force on June 1 after completing his education at Radford University, where he majored in Criminal Justice. He served as a sheriff’s office intern during the summer of 2008. Ray’s obituary said he was born in Franklin and was a member of Courtland United Methodist Church.

Anne Babb, an instructor from Southampton Academy, spoke for the family at the funeral.

“Be sure that you tell your loved ones that you love them,” Babb said. “Christopher’s granddaddy, whom he had to say goodbye to very recently, always told him, ‘Boy, make something of yourself.’ In 22 short years, he certainly did that.”