11/03/2003

Officer Dies After Big Rig Hits Him

Officer Down: Toby Dirickson - [Ranger, Texas]

By Staci Semrad / Reporter-News Staff Writer

A Ranger, Texas policeman died early Sunday after being hit while directing traffic around a fatal-crash site on Interstate 20.

Toby Dirickson, 28, of Ranger was standing near his patrol vehicle when he was struck by a passing tractor-trailer rig and pinned between the truck and his vehicle, the Department of Public Safety reported. The incident occurred at 3:23 a.m. about two miles east of Ranger.

The driver of the truck stopped and was not injured, said Terri Duncan, communications operator for the DPS in
Brownwood. Dirickson was pronounced dead at Eastland Memorial Hospital at 4:50 a.m., she said.

Dirickson was directing traffic around a crash that occurred about 2:40 a.m. in which Debra Whitehead, 41, of Cisco was killed.

Whitehead was traveling east in the westbound lane of I-20 when her passenger vehicle collided head-on with a tractor-trailer rig, Duncan said. She was the only occupant of her vehicle, Duncan said, and the driver of the truck was not injured.

Whitehead was pronounced dead at the scene, Duncan said. Her body was sent to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office.

DPS reports did not indicate whether the driver of the rig that struck Dirickson faces any citations.

Dirickson, who turned 28 on Friday, had been a member of the Ranger Police Department for about four months and a volunteer with the Ranger Fire Department about two months, Ranger fire Chief Darrell Fox said.

"He was just a good kid — would do anything for you," Fox said.

Fox spoke about the dangerous situations officers face when covering vehicle crashes.

"I’ve been the fire chief out here for 22 years, and it’s been a track meet just getting out there, getting our job done and not getting run over," he said, "because traffic doesn’t slow down to let us get our job done."

Ranger Mayor Raymond Hart said the Ranger community is in "deep sorrow" over Dirickson’s death.

"It’s a shock to the whole town and the whole community here," he said. "Nobody was expecting anything like this to happen."

Ranger is 65 miles east of Abilene.

Dirickson is survived by: His wife, Annette Dirickson; his mother and stepfather, Brenda and Elton Swindle of Comanche; and three brothers, Bobby, Shawn and Brian Dirickson.

This is the second tragedy in a year for the family. Toby Dirickson’s father, Leslie Dirickson — a truck driver in Brownwood — died in a vehicle crash this spring in Oklahoma, said Toby Dirickson’s sister-in-law, Pat Dirickson.

Shawn Dirickson, 32, recalled his brother’s drive to become a police officer.

"He worked hard to be a cop — I mean real hard," he said.

Toby Dirickson went to the police academy in Brownwood in 2000. He failed a police academy test his first time, so, at his own expense, he enrolled again. He graduated in May from the police academy at Weatherford College in Decatur.

His mother, Brenda Swindle, said she wasn’t crazy about her son entering a dangerous field but was proud of him the day he graduated from the academy.

"He wasn’t a quitter," she said. "Even though he failed the first time, he was so bound and determined to become a policeman (that) he went back and did it again."

His previous jobs included serving in the Texas National Guard, working as a jailer in Odessa at the Ector County Law Enforcement Center, and delivering the Abilene Reporter-News, The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram to subscribers in Comanche.

Funeral services are pending at Hall & Sons Funeral Home in Comanche.
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