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Plaque pays tribute to fallen officer

A ceremony took place Saturday on the lawn of the Monroe County Courthouse in Union.

Natural Resources Police officers and family members gathered to remember Wesley C. Frame Jr., a conservation officer killed in the line of duty almost 34 years before. They dedicated a stone monument with Frame's likeness etched upon it. They attached a small bronze plaque to the stone.

There's a story behind that little bronze plaque.

Rich Creek is a trout stream that bubbles full-grown from a limestone spring at the base of Peters Mountain. From 1975 to 1994, the state Division of Natural Resources leased a mile of it from a local landowner and managed that gorgeous little stretch of water under catch-and-release, fly fishing-only regulations.

Members of Trout Unlimited poured countless hours of "sweat equity" into Rich Creek to make it more accessible to anglers and to improve habitat for the trout.

Ernie Nester, a member of TU's national council at the time, said members erected fences to keep cattle out of most of the stream, built splash dams to create pools, stabilized the creek's muddy banks and constructed crossing stiles so anglers wouldn't mash down the fences.

The stream was a smash hit. Anglers came from Bluefield, Beckley, Charleston and even farther away to fish for its wary brown trout. And when they came, they quite often had their licenses checked by a one particular conservation officer - Wes Frame.

"He was very conscientious about checking people who were fishing the fly fishing-only section," Nester recalled. "Quite a few members of our [Kanawha Valley] chapter had their licenses checked. For many of them, it was the first time they'd ever had their licenses checked."

Frame took seriously his duty to protect Rich Creek from poachers and other ne'er-do-wells. For a year and a half, patrolling the stream was part of his routine.

And then he was killed.

Larry Case, at the time a fresh-from-the-academy rookie officer, routinely partnered with Frame between August and November 1978.

"On Nov. 8 or 9, I accompanied Wes on a bear-poaching investigation," Case said. "We didn't find the poachers, but Wes said he had received a littering complaint against a guy and suggested we drop by to arrest him.

"He wasn't home. Wes came back on the 10th, cited the guy and took him to the justice of the peace in Union. At the time, it was routine for officers to accompany people convicted of littering and have them clean up their mess. The guy apparently asked Wes to stop so he could get a coat. He came out of the house with a gun and killed Wes."

The killing stunned Trout Unlimited members, who had grown to know Frame and were fond of him. Members of several TU chapters pitched in and had a bronze plaque made to honor the fallen officer. They placed it on a small stone monument beside one of Rich Creek's best pools, where it remained until recently.

"After [the DNR] lost the lease to the stream, it became closed to the public and no one was able to see the monument," Case said. "I couldn't stand the thought of it sitting there with greenbrier growing over it, not being seen by anyone."

Case wanted to move the plaque to a more public place. The Monroe County Commission offered a space on the courthouse lawn. A granite marker laser-etched with Frame's likeness now holds the original plaque.

Case called Saturday's ceremony "a celebration of Wes's service and his dedication to law enforcement."

"For Wes, being an officer was a lifestyle choice," Case said. "He always considered himself on duty."


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