WILLIAMSON, W.Va. -- A new sheriff who was cracking down on the drug trade in southern West Virginia's coalfields was fatally shot Wednesday in the spot where he usually parked his car for lunch, and state police said the suspect was in a hospital with gunshot wounds inflicted by a deputy who chased him.
Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum died of his wounds, but state police Capt. David Nelson didn't say how many times he was shot, or offer many other details, as two dozen law enforcement officers gathered around him on the courthouse steps.
The suspect, Tennis M. Maynard, 37, was being treated at a hospital in Huntington Wednesday. Capt. Nelson said Mr. Maynard was fleeing from a deputy and crashed his car into a bridge in nearby Delbarton. Mr. Maynard got out of the vehicle and pulled a gun on the deputy, who fired in self-defense, he said.
Sheriff Crum was elected last year and had just taken office in January, but he had already helped indict dozens of suspected drug dealers through the county's new Operation Zero Tolerance. It is unclear whether that crusade was related to his death, but residents and county officials suspect as much.
County commission president John Mark Hubbard said Sheriff Crum's team has targeted people "who spread the disease of addiction among our residents." He added: "We were and we are proud of him and his service. To say Eugene will be missed is a vast understatement."
Though there is no indication of any connection, Sheriff Crum's killing comes on the heels of a Texas district attorney and his wife being shot to death in their home over the weekend, and just weeks after Colorado's corrections director also was gunned down at his home.
West Virginia Delegate Harry Keith White, who campaigned with Sheriff Crum last year, said his friend was killed in the same place where he parked his car most days to eat lunch, near the site of a former pharmacy known for illegally distributing pills. He wanted to be certain the "pill mill" remained closed. "I think anybody you ask would tell you he was a great guy," he said.
Operation Zero Tolerance was Sheriff Crum's way to make good on a campaign pledge, Mr. White said. State, federal and local authorities have all tried to crack down on West Virginia's drug problem, which centers on illegal sales of prescription drugs in the southern counties. Mingo County is in the southwest corner of West Virginia, on the border with Kentucky.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said earlier this year that West Virginia had the second-highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the nation, after New Mexico. And in February, federal officials said they had prosecuted more than 200 pill dealers in the past two years.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin called Sheriff Crum's killing "shocking" and pledged the assistance of his office and whatever other federal agencies are needed.
Sheriff Crum had been a magistrate for 12 years and had previously served as police chief in Delbarton. He won the primarily handily and ran unopposed in the general election in the fall.
The Officer Down Memorial Page says 197 police officers in West Virginia have died in the line of duty, 136 of them from deliberate gunfire
Williamson, a town of about 3,200, sits along the Tug Fork River in a part of the state long associated with violence. Mingo and neighboring McDowell County are home to the legendary blood feud between the Hatfield family of West Virginia and the McCoy family of Kentucky, a conflict dating to the Civil War.