Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Va. had given slain deputy valor medal in 2003

Eric E. Sutphin said he no longer remembered that night except for the sounds.

Eric E. Sutphin

The Roanoke Times | File 2005

Montgomery County sheriff's Deupty Eric Sutphin was injured in 2003 while exchanging fire with a man who had just shot a Christiansburg officer. He was present during the 2005 annual ceremony honoring law officers killed in the line of duty.


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Eric E. Sutphin won the state's Medal of Valor on a Monday night in May 2003.

That was the night Christopher Holmes shot Christiansburg police Officer Scott Hylton in a gas station parking lot. Sutphin, the first officer on the scene, rammed Holmes' car. Holmes fired through the deputy's windshield.

One bullet grazed the top of Sutphin's shoulder. Another passed between the inside of his right biceps and his chest, leaving a burn mark. Sutphin, crouched under the dash, emptied the clip of his semiautomatic pistol over the steering wheel. He reloaded, then stuck his head up. Holmes was gone.

But soon, Sutphin and two other officers cornered him behind a nearby trash bin. Holmes came out with his pistol raised. The three officers, standing side by side, fired until Holmes was dead.

Hylton, the officer Holmes had shot, died from his wounds.

Three months after the shooting, Sutphin took a job selling modular homes.

The career change didn't last. Sutphin was back with the sheriff's office by August 2004.

On Monday, Sutphin, a 40-year-old corporal, was shot and killed in Blacksburg. An escaped jail inmate is accused of killing Sutphin and also, a day earlier, a guard at Montgomery Regional Hospital.

Gov. Tim Kaine issued a statement Monday saying Sutphin "exemplified the highest traditions of law enforcement." He offered condolences to Sutphin's friends and family, and to the family of Derrick McFarland, the hospital security guard killed Sunday.

At a service for fallen officers last year, Sutphin said his memory of the 2003 shooting for which he earned the highest public safety award in Virginia had faded. Except for the sounds. The explosions of gunfire and breaking glass still echoed.

"It's like I can still hear it more than I can still see it," he said.

Sutphin left behind a wife and twin 8-year-old daughters.

Soon after William Morva, the man accused of shooting Sutphin and McFarland, was captured, a harried Montgomery County Sheriff Tommy Whitt praised Sutphin.

"He was a wonderful police officer, who was very dedicated, who died very tragically," Whitt said.

Later, the sheriff's office announced it was setting up a trust fund to assist Sutphin's family.

All the conversation in the Coffee Depot in downtown Christiansburg was about the deputy and the day's events.

The staff was keeping up with events over the Internet and watching police-laden vehicles roll by on Main Street. Six headed west. Eight headed east.

A few blocks away, the home of Derrick McFarland was closed and quiet. Children's toys lined a wall.

A small dog erupted into barking at the sound of knocking before a woman came to the door.

She didn't want to talk. Maybe tomorrow, she said. Maybe after she'd talked with McFarland's family.

Donations to the Eric E. Sutphin Memorial Trust can be made at any First National Bank branch or by mail to First National Bank, c/o Eric E. Sutphin Memorial Trust, P.O. Box 600, Christiansburg, VA 24068. Proceeds will go directly to the Sutphin family. Checks should be payable to the Eric E. Sutphin Memorial Trust.

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