02/13/2004

N.C. Deputy Found Slain Near Home Near

Officer Down: Mark Reid Tucker - [Raleigh, North Carolina]

Mark Reid Tucker's body was found lying near his unmarked Ford in Wake County

By OREN DORELL, Raleigh News Observer

Wake County, N.C. sheriff's investigators struggled with grief and slim leads as the shooting death of a well-known deputy Thursday shook local law officers.

Colleagues remember dedicated deputy:

Mark Reid Tucker, 49, a sheriff's deputy and former U.S. marshal, was found dead of a gunshot wound in a field near his home in the southwestern part of the county. Investigators consider his death a homicide.

A husband and the father of two grown sons, Tucker was popular in his neighborhood, where one resident called him "the cornerstone of our protection."

His body was lying near his unmarked silver Ford Crown Victoria, his service weapon still in its holster early Thursday afternoon, Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said.

Investigators are looking for a white, boxy car, possibly a Mitsubishi with a hood ornament, that neighbors said they saw in the area.

Sheriff's investigators suspect the plainclothes detective might have been checking out a suspicious car while taking a lunch break at his home nearby.

"They're working on it now; people are calling in leads and they're running down every lead they can," said Phyllis Stephens, a sheriff's spokeswoman.

This investigation "is a difficult thing to do," Harrison said. "He's one of us. We're a big family, and it hurts."

Tucker had been assigned to investigate crimes such as burglaries and car thefts.

He checked in at work about 8:30 a.m. Thursday and was seen in the downtown Raleigh office about noon, Harrison said.

About 1:30 p.m., a man driving with his 8-year-old daughter saw Tucker lying in the field off Holly Springs Road at Winding Oak Way, where a new YMCA building is planned. The field is an expanse of scrub brush cut by two roads that cross each other.

Janice Kreiling, 59, a neighbor of Tucker's who knew him well, said the man was shaken when he knocked on her door and asked her to call police. "He said he was driving by, and he saw a body that looked like he was shot in his head," Kreiling said. "He said he immediately covered his daughter's eyes."

About 30 police and emergency vehicles rushed to the area after 911 was called. Agents and officers from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the State Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI joined Wake County investigators at the scene.

Harrison speculated that Tucker might have driven into the undeveloped cul de sac about 150 yards from his home to check out a car he saw parked there.

Katharine Ogburn, 82, whose family owned the field from 1915 until she sold it in 1999, said she often saw suspicious cars parked there facing Holly Springs Road. "They park facing the highway and blink their lights every once in a while," Ogburn said.

She reported the cars to the sheriff's office Saturday, she said.

Tucker, 49, had been a Wake sheriff's deputy for 23 years when he was appointed U.S. marshal for the Eastern District of North Carolina in 1999. The Eastern District stretches from Wake County to the state's coast.

The 94 marshals in the country are political appointees. U.S. marshals and their deputies perform court-related duties, such as protection for court facilities and personnel, enforcement of court orders, transporting and processing of prisoners.

After President Bush took office, Tucker was replaced in March 2002. The next month he returned to his first love: working the rural areas of Wake County as a deputy.

Several neighbors said it would be in character for Tucker to stop and check if he saw something suspicious in the neighborhood.

Janice Monaco, 38, Kreiling's daughter, said Tucker would park in the field himself and admonish her husband for driving his four-wheeler there.

Carol McMullen, 44, a single mother who lives next door to the Tuckers, said, "I wouldn't be surprised at all if he went over there to investigate what was going on."

Laura Money, 40, who lives two doors away from the Tuckers' home, said everyone on their cul de sac felt good about having a law officer living nearby.

"He was someone who would take care of the neighbors if they needed it, but I would say he would do it humbly," Money said. "Everybody in this corner kind of watches each other's back, and he was the cornerstone of our protection."

The field where he died is where many residents walk their dogs, she said. "It's kind of scary when it happens in your back yard," Money said.

For those in local law enforcement, Tucker's slaying was a sobering reminder of the danger they face.

"The mood is it can happen to anybody, to any one of us, on any given day," said Raleigh police Capt. D.S. Overman, supervisor of the department's special operations unit.

Three killed in year:

Mark Reid Tucker was the third Wake sheriff's deputy killed on duty in less than a year -- Deputies William James, 33, and Phil Owens, 34, died in car crashes last year -- but apparently the first slain in an assault in 71 years.

According to the N.C. Fallen Officers Web site at http://members.cox.net/rblizzard, Wake sheriff's Deputy G.C. Massey was killed in 1933. He was trying to arrest a fugitive in Zebulon.

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