WILLIAMSON, W.Va. -- The newly elected Mingo County sheriff, intent on cleaning up the county's drug problem, was gunned down at midday Wednesday in downtown Williamson.
Williamson resident Larry Dove said he saw a man shoot Sheriff Eugene Crum "right in the head," in a parking lot on Third Avenue.
Tennis Melvin Maynard, 37, of Delbarton, has been arrested in connection to the shooting, according to West Virginia State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous.
Baylous said a Mingo sheriff's deputy spotted Maynard in a car near Delbarton after the shooting and chased him. He said Maynard wrecked his car and jumped out, pointing a gun at the deputy.
The deputy opened fire, Baylous said, striking Maynard several times. He was taken to Cabell-Huntington Hospital, but Baylous said he did not know the suspect's condition.
Williamson Police Chief Dave Rockel will take over the sheriff's department until a new sheriff is appointed, Mingo County Emergency Services Director Jarod Fletcher said at a news conference.
Crum took office in January. He had campaigned on ridding the county of illegal drugs, particularly the illicit use of prescription painkillers.
Delegate Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, chairman of the House Finance Committee, said Crum had been aggressive as a county magistrate in setting up a drug task force with local police departments.
White said, "In most people's opinion," the drug task force "had done a terrific job of cleaning up drugs in the county.
"Drugs are a terrible plague and scourge facing much of Southern West Virginia, but at least here in Mingo County, Eugene was working very hard to eradicate this problem prior to becoming the sheriff but had stayed aggressive in his pursuit in stopping pill mills around the county," White said in a prepared statement.
'His whole dream was to be sheriff'
Williamson has had a reputation for prescription drug abuse for several years and some have referred to the town as "Pilliamson."
A notable case is that of Dr. Diane Shafer. Shafer operated a notorious Williamson pill mill in the early 2000s and pleaded guilty in May 2012 to conspiracy to misuse her Drug Enforcement Administration registration number.
The plea was the result of a federal investigation that began about four years ago, examining Shafer's doling out of more than 118,000 prescriptions since 2003.
Dallas and Dollie Toler parked their truck near the scene Wednesday evening and cried together. Dallas said he took over as chief magistrate in Mingo County after Crum quit to run for sheriff.
"His whole dream was to be sheriff," Dollie Toler said. "He wanted to stop the drug trade around here, and it cost him his life."
Dallas Toler said the night Crum was elected sheriff was one of the happiest he'd ever seen him.
Crum's wife, Rosie, was visiting their two children, Julie and Bud, in Indiana when she learned of the shooting Wednesday, Dollie Toler said. She got on a plane with her children and deputies were expected to escort the family from Yeager Airport late Wednesday.
"To think he was gunned down in broad daylight highlights the dangerous position our men and women in law enforcement place themselves in every day," White said in the statement.
Each day, Crum would buy lunch at a restaurant across from the courthouse, and would eat it in his parked car and observe a pill mill, which recently had been shut down, White said.
"Unfortunately, this unselfish act became the scene at which he was killed in broad daylight," Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, an assistant prosecutor in Mingo County, said in a statement.
That was a daily routine he began that many Williamson residents got familiar with.
Loretta Cline said she often would see Crum in his SUV at the lot on Harvey Street. He would wave or smile at her and her children, she said.
"You could tell he cared about people, and didn't care to stop and talk to anyone," Cline said.
A Starters Restaurant employee, who didn't want to give her name, said Crum often dined at the Second Avenue restaurant, which is about a block away from where the shooting occurred.
"He was a great guy," she said. "We finally had a really good sheriff. It's a tragedy for the small town."
Marcum said Crum was a "true friend to the county" and a "strong fighter of the drug trade in Mingo."
"I'm very proud of the work he's done as sheriff," Marcum said. "He's going to be dearly missed."
Before serving as a magistrate, Crum was the chief of the Delbarton Police Department.