Sumter police officer knows, worked with, all seven victims shot, one fatally, in Florence

'It's everybody I knew.'

BY KAYLA ROBINS
kayla@theitem.com
Posted 10/7/18

A piece of black fabric cut through the middle with a blue line was wrapped horizontally around the police officer badge. His badge placed him at Sumter Police Department, but his mind was in Florence County with six of his former co-workers and the …

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Sumter police officer knows, worked with, all seven victims shot, one fatally, in Florence

'It's everybody I knew.'

Posted

A piece of black fabric cut through the middle with a blue line was wrapped horizontally around the police officer badge. His badge placed him at Sumter Police Department, but his mind was in Florence County with six of his former co-workers and the supervisor whose funeral he is attending Monday.

Cpl. Thomas West wanted to be a cop when he grew up and got that chance when he moved to Sumter from Ohio and left the labor industry. His first job was at Florence Police Department. He worked there for 10 years before transferring to Sumter in 2016 for financial reasons to be closer to home.

"Whether you change jobs or what, [Florence] is still my family away from my new family," West said.

He used to see Sgt. Terrence Carraway every day.

On Wednesday afternoon, Florence County deputies arrived at a house in the Vintage Place neighborhood on Hoffmeyer Road to question a 27-year-old man about alleged sexual assault against a child. Immediately upon exiting their car, three deputies were shot.

Dozens of officers rushed to help, according to The Associated Press. The suspected gunman, a 74-year-old wounded Bronze Star Vietnam veteran and the sexual assault suspect's father, then reportedly shot four city police officers, killing Carraway.

Florence Police Chief Allen Heidler told the AP that during the two-hour standoff it took up to 30 minutes to get an armored vehicle close enough to the wounded officers because of the intensity of rounds being fired from "such powerful weapons."

"It's people I went to work with every day and seen every day," West said.

He knows all six wounded officers - Florence County Deputy Arie Davis, investigator Sarah Miller and investigator Farrah Turner, who were all shot as they got out of their car, and Florence police officers Brian Hart, Travis Scott and Scott Williamson.

"[When you hear what's happened,] you start thinking of all the people you worked with," he said. "There's a lot of new people there I don't know, but when you can put a face to the victims of it, it really hits home."

He worked with Hart on the street for years, sharing a bond over living only an hour apart in Ohio. Just talked to him a couple weeks ago for advice.

Williamson, he said, "he's in the hospital. I've never heard of anyone not liking that guy. He was one of the best officers that I've ever worked with as far as being professional."

He didn't work with Scott too much but knows "the community loves him." He has been the department's representative at many crime watch meetings.

He knows the county deputies, too, because both agencies, as he says Sumter does, help each other out.

Miller was a school resource officer when West moved to Sumter, he said, and he used to run into Turner on the job.

West said when he heard there was a shooting he didn't want to believe the bad news, only the good.

"But when I found out that Carraway had passed, there was no ... that was a definite. Everybody had said that one. That was already bad enough. Then, just going through my head and hearing all the others involved, first it was three, then it was four. It just kept climbing," he said. "And hearing the names. It's everybody I knew. Everybody."

Carraway was an investigator when West entered the force at Florence. They did not work together on the street, but West would fill in for Carraway's shifts.

"One time, when I was out, I had shoulder surgery, rotator cuff surgery. I was stuck doing office work ... I was in a sling, and Terrence did make it a point to always come in and check on me," West said.

Carraway's son was recovering from shoulder surgery at the same time, so Carraway would talk to West about it.

"As a boss, I had no qualms with him. He was fair. He would always ask how you were doing, if you had any concerns," he said. "I'd work with him today, if possible."

West said had there been no financial reasons to work closer to home, he would still probably be in Florence.

An officer he worked with was fatally shot while he was in Florence, but not in the line of duty. This, he said, was different.

"That wasn't coming to work and putting yourself on the line for others. That's what it really comes down to for Carraway. It wasn't at a home or doing recreational stuff or driving. It's putting themselves in harm's way, and that's what got them," he said.

Military records obtained by the AP show the suspected gunman, who was released from the hospital Friday, taken to jail and denied bond on one murder charge and six for attempted murder, was awarded a marksman badge with pistol bar and a sharpshooter with rifle bar during his 11-year service.

Several children in the home at the time of the shooting were not harmed, authorities reported. The suspected gunman's son was shot and was also expected to be released and taken to jail on Friday on a second-degree criminal sexual conduct charge.

Richland County deputies are investigating the case at the request of Florence County Sheriff's Office, according to the AP. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said a special FBI team that investigated the fatal shootings of five police officers in Dallas in 2016 and the deaths of 59 people and wounding of hundreds more in Las Vegas last year is helping collect evidence from the crime scene, an upscale subdivision West said usually only garners civil and neighbor disputes.

"As tragic as Dallas was, not putting faces to them, it's a bit different," West said. "Knowing that, it's a little bit different thinking when it's going down. That's where I started at. You feel a little bit, almost guilty that you're not still there, you know, helping out. Yeah, it's like you feel like you abandoned them a little bit. Even though you've changed careers, you feel like you abandoned them, and you should've been there with them."