Thursday was a day Carroll County Sheriff J.B. Gardner called long overdue as two fallen Carroll County police officers were honored with bridges dedicated in their memory.
During two separate ceremonies Thursday morning, bridges were dedicated in Carroll County to the late Sheriff Lewis Webb and the late Deputy Sheriff Emery Mabry, both killed in the line of duty in Carroll County. Webb was killed in the infamous Carroll County Courthouse Tragedy in 1912, while Mabry was killed during a traffic stop in Laurel Fork in 1974.
In an ironic twist, it took less than five minutes into the first bridge dedication before those in attendance received a blunt reminder of the dangers of the profession. As Carroll County Sheriff J.B. Gardner spoke about Sheriff Webb, several deputies literally sprinted from the ceremony to their police vehicles to respond to a call of shots fired at the other end of the county.
“Somebody is killed (in the line of duty) every day – just like this,” Gardner said, pointing as the officers sped off with sirens flashing.
The interruption served only to drive home the point of why Carroll’s fallen officers should be recognized. Gardner said Webb was killed March 14, 1912 along with four other people in the shootout at the Carroll County Courthouse. Webb had been with the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office for 20 years, but only had served as Sheriff for three months at the time of his death.
Webb’s name is engraved in the Commonwealth Public Safety Memorial in Richmond along with Mabry’s name and 800 other Virginia law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. They join more than 20,000 names on the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial in Washington, D.C. also killed in the line of duty.
“And sadly, as you know, that list grows every day,” Gardner said. “In May of 2018, members of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office are going to travel to D.C. and once again we are going to add another name. We are going to add Curtis Bartlett’s name to the wall. Deputy Curtis Bartlett was killed in a pursuit March 9, 2017 while responding to assist Lt. Bobby Lyons (in Carroll County).”
Gardner then pointed to several pictures in front of him from a criminal justice class he used to teach at Carroll County High School. He said pictured were several kids that drew the names of Webb and Mabry in traces from the memorial and then presented them to family members and to their law enforcement departments.
“And if you will look at it, several of the students were doing the work, doing the names. One of them is a Carroll County Sheriff’s Deputy now and two of them are U.S. Capitol Police officers. Another one not in the picture works at the regional jail as a corrections officer,” Gardner said. “It inspired these folks to do this and this is a kind of an inspiration to us, something good they will be able to see also.”
Carroll County Board of Supervisors’ Chairman Bob Martin thanked Gardner for making the effort to recognize Carroll’s fallen officers.
“I am known for my sense of humor but today is not a humorous day. Anytime that somebody in service to their county or state or nation as a law enforcement officer or fireman or whatever, when they are killed in the line of duty, it’s not a happy occasion,” Martin said. “It is very sad. And so to me it is a solemn occasion today. It changed that family’s life forever and it’s just overwhelmingly sad to me. But I am pleased today we are able to give some recognition and keep the memory going of Sheriff Lewis Webb.”
At that point, Sheriff Gardner unveiled the new sign along with Mary June Webb, a relative of Sheriff Webb, on the U.S. 58 bridge over Snake Creek Road.
In a following ceremony just a couple of miles down the road, the U.S. 58 bridge over Big Reed Island Creek in Laurel Fork was officially dedicated in honor of Deputy Sheriff Emery Mabry. Unlike Webb, who was killed more than 100 years ago, a large contingent of family members were on hand for Mabry’s bridge dedication. Relatives ranged from Mabry’s brother, Billy, all the way down to his great-great-great grandchildren.
“This is long overdue. This bridge dedication ceremony is in memory of Deputy Emery Grant Mabry who was killed in the line of duty on April 22, 1974. I am excited that there are a lot of family members here. This is a good thing,” Gardner said.
Gardner said Mabry was shot and killed not far from the very spot of the bridge dedication. Mabry had been with the Carroll County Sheriff’s office for a little over a year when he was killed. It was an event that impacted Carroll’s current sheriff tremendously.
“I can remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. I was at Carroll County High School and I could take you back to the very spot,” Gardner said. “I didn’t know Emery Mabry at all, but it made an impression on my life that someone was willing to sacrifice themselves for the people in this county. It made an impression on me. I also can remember how devastating the death was to this community.”
Gardner said the father of his Chief Deputy, Gary Bourne, was working that day and had no idea Mabry had been killed, as it was in a time before internet and cell phones.
“He remembers his dad was out working at the time and he remembers waiting at home for a long period of time not having any idea if it was his parent or who it was,” Gardner said. “It didn’t really matter because it was still all family, still that brown family. Gary also tells me that he remembers how hard it was the days after, just going back, your friend has just been killed, just stepping back in uniform and doing the job, but you still have to do it.”
Gardner said Mabry and Webb both died for a cause greater than themselves. Their legacy and their sacrifice show up in the folks who choose to put on the uniform every day.
“I tell my folks, ‘I don’t know why you do this every day.’ There is no excuse for it anymore,” Gardner said. “Not the way the world looks at law enforcement anymore, there is no excuse why you get up and put that uniform on every day except they still want to do it and they still want to help people. And that is their purpose and that is why they are here.”
Martin said when he was 24, he ran for the board of supervisors in 1974 – the same year Mabry was killed in the line of duty. He said it had a negative effect on everyone and everything at the time.
“We think we live in the Garden of Eden and it’s close, but bad things happen to good people – even here – and a bad thing happened to Deputy Sheriff Mabry,” Martin said. “Sadly the county has grown but so has our crime and stuff that comes in from outside.”
At that point, Martin presented a plaque to Mabry’s brother, Billy. Billy Mabry then joined Gardner in unveiling the sign designating the bridge as Deputy Sheriff Emery Mabry Memorial Bridge.
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN