Deputies, driver, slain troopers honored
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two fallen State Police troopers, county sheriff's deputies who came to their aid and a tow truck driver who was first on the scene of a fatal shooting last year were honored Monday in a special ceremony at the state Capitol in Charleston.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and members of the West Virginia Sheriffs Association both recognized slain troopers Eric Workman and Marshall Bailey, tow truck driver Frank Massey, Roane County sheriff's deputy John Westfall and Clay County deputies Robert Belt, Chris Legg and Chris Davis.
Bailey and Workman were shot the night of Aug. 28, 2012, when they responded to what they thought was a routine traffic stop off the Wallback exit of Interstate 79. Instead, 22-year-old Luke Baber, who had stolen a truck earlier in Beckley, pulled out a pistol he had hidden in his pants and shot the two troopers after they put him in their patrol car.
The two troopers handcuffed Baber with his hands in front of him, in an apparent attempt to make their prisoner more comfortable. But they didn't know he had a hidden gun, which he was able to pull out once he was in the car.
"This is a situation we want to continue to learn from," said Joe Thornton, state director of military affairs and public safety. He said State Police have integrated the Aug. 28 shooting into their training so that incidents like the killings of the two troopers don't happen again.
Massey was first on the scene following the shooting, and was also shot by Baber, but was able to get away and call for help. Deputies from Roane and Clay counties who responded were able to track Baber to the woods nearby, where they exchanged gunfire and Baber was killed. Westfall was also wounded in the firefight, but was saved by his body armor.
Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette, and Delegate Bob Ashley, R-Roane, said bills were to be introduced in the state Legislature on Monday to require and provide body armor for police. Given the increasingly violent world we live in, Laird said, "No longer is it optional [to provide body armor]. It must be funded."
Members of the West Virginia Beer Wholesalers Association promised to provide funding for 50 ballistic vests. Sheriffs Association Executive Director Rudi Raynes-Kidder said the vests cost anywhere from $450 to $1,000 apiece, making the promise substantial.
In a prepared statement, Tomblin praised the efforts of the two troopers and the deputies who responded to the shooting in August. "Their purpose on this earth was to face the dangers and make the world safe for the rest of us," Tomblin wrote.
"They don't do it for the money, they don't do it because it's comfortable," he wrote. "They do it because they're called. We call men like that heroes."
Tomblin presented the troopers' families, the deputies and Massey with special certificates at Monday's ceremony. Cabell County Sheriff Tom McComas, president of the West Virginia Sheriffs' Association, presented an award to Massey and presented Belt, Legg and Davis with Combat Crosses.
McComas said it was easy to run away from danger. Deputies like those who responded to the shootings of Bailey and Workman, "run in to trouble," he said.
McComas said Massey was the real first responder on the scene of the shooting, and praised the tow truck driver for his bravery.
Westfall, still wearing a cast from the shooting, was presented with the Purple Heart. The Roane County deputy said he will never forget seeing an armada of flashing blue lights coming for him after he was hit.
"You don't know what that's like, knowing everyone's coming to your aid," he said. "It's a good feeling knowing those guys are out there."
Reach Rusty Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1215.