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Maj. Tom Wallis of the Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Department was killed

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April 08, 2004

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Maj. Tom Wallis of the Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Department was killed

Officer Down: Major Tom Wallis - [Evansville, Indiana]

Maj. Tom Wallis of the Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Department was killed Saturday after losing control of his motorcycle on a Coopertown, Tenn., road.

Wallis, 47, was traveling west on Turnersville Road in Coopertown - near Nashville - about 1 p.m., according to an accident report filed by the Tennessee State Police.

"The vehicle was going into a sharp curve, and the driver was unable to negotiate the curve," trooper Andy Shelton wrote in his report. "He lost control, was thrown off the motorcycle and struck a guardrail."

Wallis was taken to Northcrest Hospital in Springfield, Tenn., where doctors pronounced him dead.

He had been in Coopertown to watch his daughter play soccer, said Vanderburgh County Sheriff Brad Ellsworth.

News of Wallis' death hit hard in the Sheriff's Department, where Wallis had served since 1977. Since 1999, he has served as executive commander of the department's field operations division.

But that title doesn't sum up Wallis' service to the department, said Chief Deputy Eric Williams.

"Tom was a very unique individual - I always called him 'The Motivator,'" Williams said. "I can remember when I was testing for the sheriff's office (in 1987), Tom came out and ran beside me during my run, and he yelled at me the entire time.

"He was yelling, 'You can run faster than that! Come on, run! How bad do you want this job?!' and stuff like that."

Inside the department, Wallis was known both as a fitness nut and a practical jokester.

Williams described Wallis as someone who told jokes and played pranks, always "trying to push people's buttons." Like the time he bet on Williams' promotion, telling the younger man that he would attain corporal status sooner than expected.

"The bet was that I would buy him a new suit if he won the bet, (because) my family owns a clothing store," Williams said. "He won the bet, and before I got a chance to actually buy him the suit, he went down to my family's business, and he talked them into letting him pick out the suit and charge it to my account.

"Of course, he picked out the most expensive suit available at the time, and he didn't let me know about it until I got the bill."

But when Wallis was on the job, Williams said, he was all business.

He spent several years working adult investigations, breaking some of the department's biggest cases. And when it came to dealing with people, Williams said, few were better than Wallis.

"He had a real knack for getting information out of witnesses," Williams said. "He was an excellent investigator - he was a detective's kind of detective."

Both Williams and Ellsworth described Wallis as a guy who genuinely cared about other people.

He was involved in several of the department's charity projects, and spearheaded the recent "Shop With a Cop" campaign. That program raised money for underprivileged children, so they could go to Eastland Mall before Christmas and buy gifts for themselves and their families.

"Everybody that knew Tom Wallis - there was something in him that people wanted to be like," Ellsworth said. "Not everything about him, but everybody who knew Tom wanted to be a little more like him."

Wallis is survived by his mother and sister. He also had two children, who live with his ex-wife.

"And he had a whole lot of friends," Williams said. "He was a very good friend, and is somebody we will deeply miss as both a friend and as a co-worker."

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