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Fayette Mourns Slain Officers, Dispatcher

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June 08, 2003

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Fayette Mourns Slain Officers, Dispatcher

Officer Down: Cpl James Crump - [Fayette, Alabama]


FAYETTE - Much of this town is grieving over the sudden, violent deaths of two police officers and a dispatcher. But the night shift at Sonic is taking it especially tough.

Forget about cops and their doughnuts. Cpl. James Crump was a chili pie man.

Every shift he was there, at the drive-up restaurant across Second Avenue from the Fayette police station.

"`Just checking on y'all to make sure everything's OK,'" night crew leader, Anthony Finch, 17, remembers Crump saying again and again. "He was a great guy, and he loved chili pies."

The burly officer didn't hide in his big blue cruiser. He made himself comfortable on the outside patio, sometimes downing two shakes at a time.

"He let me off a bunch of tickets," Finch remembers with a grin little stuff, like a loud car stereo.

And when Finch's car got broken into, Crump was extra vigilant, trying to find out who was responsible and stepping up his presence in the Sonic lot so that would not happen to any of the other mostly teenagers at work there.

"These kids have cried for two days. I almost had to close the doors," said Sonic manager Jeffery Campbell.

A Styrofoam drink cup on his desk holds donations.

Even the boss is impressed. Campbell said the teens, with their paychecks of $40 to $50 a week, have collected $100 for flowers for the slain officers.

The Sonic crew misses Crump, along with Officer Arnold Strickland and police dispatcher Leslie "Ace" Mealer, also regulars at the drive-up.

All three died Saturday inside the police station as a suspect was being booked on receiving stolen property charges. Devan Darnell Moore, 18, was arrested hours later in a Lowndes County, Miss., pasture in a police cruiser taken in Fayette. Authorities have said the suspect took Strickland's gun.

Moore faces capital murder charges in the deaths and will be arraigned today in Fayette.

Outside the police station, flowers, cards and balloons in memory of the slain men faded under Sunday sunshine.

Borrowed police officers from surrounding jurisdictions patrolled Fayette, a town of 5,000. The 14-person police squad rushed in after the early Saturday shootings, said investigator Sam Black, who returned Sunday after a 14-hour day assisting ABI and FBI agents Saturday.

Black said there had been a massive outpouring of support from the community, food and cards. After all, he said, in Fayette people bring homebaked goods to the police just on typical days.

Strickland, who everyone just called "Arnold," was a veteran lawman who worked previously in the Fayette County Sheriff's Department and smaller agencies in western Alabama.

A sign was still taped to his apartment door Sunday. "Day Sleeper," it read.

Neighbor Tiffany Morrison, 20, used to run into him early every morning as he walked his Boston terrier, Duchess.

She said Strickland told her police work was relaxing. "I don't think he ever worried about it here."

As a reserve officer planning to join a police force when she turns 21, Morrison knew all of the slain men. Crump worked out at her gym. "He was a power lifter. He was stout," she said.

She recalls him talking about wanting to join a larger department because "nothing ever happens here," she said.

Morrison's sister Angela Morrison spoke fondly of Mealer. The dispatcher and her fiance, Randy Pennington, were best friends. Mealer spent many of his off days with the couple, who last saw him Monday, when he showed up to help wax a truck.

"Whatever needed to be done, that's what he did," Angela Morrison said.

But not before his Sunday ritual. He'd get off work at 7 a.m. and spend the day with his father who is battling cancer, Morrison said.

Mealer had worked to improve his own health in the last two years, losing 100 pounds. For the first time in years, he felt well and looked better. He'd finally started to come out of his shell.

"A lot of people didn't know him because he was so shy," she said. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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