Honoring the fallen: 100+ years

Published 10:40 am Friday, September 30, 2016

Deputy Sheriff Christopher Ray, 22, had only served three months with the Southampton County Sheriff’s Department when he was killed in the line of duty on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2009.

He was by far the most recent statistic in the Western Tidewater area for police officers killed on duty, but not the only one. The Officer Down Memorial website lists one fallen officer each for the City of Franklin Police Department, the Southampton County Sheriff’s Department, the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Department and the Town of Emporia Police Department.

Ray was responding to a fight call in Newsoms with his field training officer at 5:20 a.m. when the officer swerved to avoid a tree that had fallen onto the road from a storm earlier that night. The car went off the road and ended up striking another tree. Ray, who was sitting in the passenger seat, suffered fatal injuries.

Approximately 40 years earlier,  Isle of Wight County Deputy Sheriff Earley Edward Blount Sr., 62, was killed in similar circumstances while in pursuit of a man wanted for traffic violations. On Nov. 8, 1969, during the pursuit, the suspect forced Blount’s patrol car of the road and into a tree, causing Blount to sustain fatal injuries. Blount was the first African-American sheriff’s deputy in Isle of Wight County.

About 13 years prior to that, the Emporia Police Department reported that Officer Stuart Jackson Edwards, 25, was killed by gunfire in the line of duty on Oct. 27, 1956. Edwards was shot and killed after he stopped a vehicle for having a loud muffler. As he and another officer attempted to arrest one of the occupants, they were attacked by the others, ending in a shootout that claimed the lives of Edwards and one of the suspects. Two other officers were wounded and none of the other suspects were charged in connection with Edwards’ death.

The City of Franklin Police Department records, as reported on Officer Down, indicate that Patrolman Vernon Wilson Jones was shot and killed in the line of duty on May 12, 1932. The suspect was sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison by the governor on Feb. 22, 1934.

The earliest record of an officer being killed in the line of duty in the Western Tidewater area, as reported by Officer Down, belongs to Chief of Police Thaddeus E. Davis, 39, of the Town of Smithfield Police Department, who succumbed to an accidental gunshot wound while on duty when his gun fell from his pocket and discharged, the round striking him in the hip. Davis had just arrested a man wanted for murder in Isle of Wight County and was walking him to the jail when the accident occurred. He was transported to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Norfolk, where he succumbed to the wound two days later. He was a member of the Smithfield military company and was survived by his wife and four children.

The Officer Down website is maintained by the Officer Down Memorial Page Inc., a non-profit dedicated to honoring America’s fallen law enforcement officers founded in 1996 by Chris Cosgriff, a current Virginia police officer and then-college freshman at James Madison University.