WILLIAMSON, W.Va. — The man suspected of killing a West Virginia sheriff as he ate lunch in his car was mentally disturbed and had no particular vendetta with law enforcement, his father told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Melvin Maynard said his 37-year-old son, Tennis Melvin Maynard, was exposed to harmful chemicals and injured while working at an Alabama coal mine. He most likely did not target Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum, he said.
“He would have probably shot anybody, the first one he come to, you know what I’m saying?” the elder Maynard said.
“I know he was off. I know he should have been in a hospital,” the father said, adding that his son had previously been in an institution. He refused to elaborate, saying only that “the same problem was eating him again.”
Crum had been in office just three months before he was killed Wednesday afternoon, making good on a campaign pledge to help rid the southern coalfields of the illegal prescription drug trade blamed for thousands of addictions and overdoses.
Friends say he was shot to death in the spot where he parked most days, keeping an eye on a place that had been shut down for illegally dispensing prescription drugs to be sure it didn’t reopen.
Tennis Maynard was shot and wounded by a Mingo deputy in a chase following the attack on Crum. State Police say he crashed his car into a bridge in his hometown of Delbarton, then got out and pointed a weapon at the deputy, who fired in self-defense.
State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous said Tennis Maynard is expected to survive and remained at Cabell Huntington Hospital in Huntington on Thursday. A hospital spokesman refused to comment on his condition, citing federal privacy laws.
State Police have charged Maynard with attempted murder for allegedly pulling the gun on the deputy, Baylous said. A Glock .40-caliber handgun is believed to be the weapon used on Crum.
Charges for his slaying will be filed separately by the Williamson Police Department.
Melvin Maynard said he didn’t know his son had a handgun.
State Police would not comment on Tennis Maynard’s criminal history. Baylous said the agency has responded to past incidents involving him, though he declined to elaborate.
The Mingo County Magistrate Court Clerk’s office said Maynard had no previous arrests in the county. The West Virginia Division of Corrections and the state’s Regional Jail and Correctional Facilities Authority also said they had no criminal records for him.
Court records in Alabama corroborate Melvin Maynard’s claim about his son’s injuries at a coal mine. Tennis Maynard sued more than two dozen people and companies in 2009 over an accident at Drummond Co.’s Shoal Creek mine on June 27, 2007.
The complaint doesn’t detail the nature of his physical injuries or say exactly what happened, but news reports indicate lightning caused an explosion that injured six people.
The lightning struck near a rig where workers were using a drill to bore a new 1,300-foot shaft. Maynard’s lawsuit alleges the drilling equipment was faulty.
Maynard claimed he endured “extreme, severe, prolonged emotional and mental pain and suffering,” depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the incident.
The mine west of Birmingham had been cited for a string of safety problems and had been shut down for six months the year before the lightning strike, when methane gas ignited and the mine flooded.
The judge dismissed some defendants from Maynard’s lawsuit last summer, and the case was put on hold to allow time for mediation of a possible settlement. An August hearing is scheduled.
Maynard’s attorney in that case, Craig Lowell, didn’t immediately return telephone and email messages.
Crum, who is survived by a wife and two children, was a former Delbarton police chief and county magistrate who resigned his post to run as a civilian for sheriff last year.
Residents had praised his new drug crackdown, dubbed Operation Zero Tolerance. It had already led to dozens of indictments, so his friends and supporters couldn’t help but suspect a connection to his death.
Dallas Toler was appointed to take Crum’s magistrate position a year ago when Crum stepped down to campaign for sheriff.
Their goal was mutual: to put a big dent in drug trafficking in the county.
“At least four or five of us have gotten threats,” Toler said. “Any time you come in and make an impact on dope and drugs, it’s just part of the course. Eugene made a big lick on drugs down here. We all have.”
Toler, still in shock, couldn’t say whether he feels safe.
“Anything can happen,” he said. “This could have been any one of us.”
Federal and state law enforcement also have fought the state’s prescription drug trade, with federal officials saying in February they had prosecuted 200 pill dealers in the past two years.
On a sign in the parking lot where Crum died, Chris and Christina Endicott scrawled a note expressing love for Crum’s family.
“You are family. The best sheriff Mingo has ever seen,” they wrote. “Our hearts are broken, along with Mingo County. We love you so much.”
The death resonated across the small state. At the state Capitol in Charleston, lawmakers, legislative staff and others wore black ribbons on their lapels, and Capitol police put black stripes over their badges.
A visitation and funeral service are planned for Crum this weekend in Delbarton, according to the West Virginia Sheriff’s Association.
Although there is no indication of any connection, 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.
Those bold killings and others have led authorities to propose more protection for law enforcers.
Williamson, a town of 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.
Crum’s county was dubbed “Bloody Mingo” during the early 20th century mine wars, when unionizing miners battled Baldwin-Felts security agents hired by the coal operators.
Crum’s killing saddened and disturbed Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has described himself as “America’s toughest sheriff” and is a national hero to conservatives on immigration issues.
It’s unclear whether Crum had been threatened, but Arpaio has been.
“Inside one year, two of my deputies were shot, one killed and one nearly killed, and now elected law enforcement officials across the nation seem to be being targeted,” he said. “The brazenness of these acts is confounding.”