The death of Washington County Sheriff Thomas H. Smith over the weekend has left many in law enforcement circles grieving for their colleague and friend, including those in Baldwin County who knew and worked with the longtime sheriff.
Smith, who had experienced health problems during his tenure as the county’s chief law enforcement officer, died Saturday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to a press release from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
An autopsy was performed Monday at the GBI Crime Laboratory in Macon.
Visitation is set for 4 p.m. Wednesday at the home of Allen Smith, Oak Lodge, located at 499 Ga. Route 68 North in Tennille. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Tennille United Methodist Church. Burial will be in Zeta Cemetery.
Maj. Mark McGraw has been named interim sheriff of Washington County. McGraw served as Smith’s second in command for many years.
Smith served as sheriff of Washington County for more than 22 years.
The death of the former president of the Georgia Sheriff’s Association sent shock waves throughout the law enforcement community.
Ocmulgee Drug Task Force Commander Wesley Nunn knew Smith for many years and talked with him at least once a week by telephone.
“I’m just devastated about it,” Nunn told The Union-Recorder. “He was the chairman of my task force and had been for the past four years or so. We talked weekly about things concerning the task force. I always treasured his guidance. He was just such a fine fellow. You don’t always meet law enforcement officials like he was. He was always there to offer help to anybody.”
Nunn said he learned of Smith’s death on Saturday during a phone call from Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Nunn said. “You never know what’s really going on in somebody’s personal world. I just hate it.”
Nunn said McGraw, whom he has known and worked with for several years, too, “is a super guy and will serve the people of Washington County well, too.”
Nunn said Smith was always his “go-to” person when he needed something.
“I really leaned on the sheriff a lot of times for his guidance,” Nunn said. “Sheriff Thomas Smith is going to be greatly missed.”
For the past several years, he spearheaded task force board meetings and helped coordinate things, Nunn said.
“He gave us great support and leadership,” said Nunn.
Sheriff Massee, meanwhile, had known Smith all of his life.
“I remember Thomas Smith since he was born,” Massee said. “My father and mother moved to Milledgeville during World War II. My daddy was with the Navy and was personnel manager of a fuse plant here. They made fuses for bombs. And when my parents moved here, Thomas Smith’s mother and grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Allen, were extremely nice to my parents and helped them get acquainted with the people living here at the time in Baldwin County.”
Massee said he watched Smith grow up.
After Thomas Smith was elected sheriff of Washington County back in the mid-1990s and was attending sheriff’s-elect academy, Massee said he happened to be serving at the time as president of the Georgia Sheriff’s Association.
“I remember going over to speak at the graduation, and was able to introduce him as the new sheriff of Washington County,” Massee recalled. “And several years later, Thomas himself, served as president of the Georgia Sheriff’s Association.”
Massee said he learned of Smith’s death after he received a phone call from someone he knows well with the GBI.
“And later I received another call from Terry Norris with the Georgia Sheriff’s Office wanting me to know about what had happened,” Massee said. “We got together and sent out a notification to all the sheriffs across the state to let them know that Thomas had died.”
Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office Detective Capt. Brad King was also saddened to hear of Smith’s death.
“I couldn’t have been more shocked,” King said. “I knew Thomas for more than 20 years. Honestly, the first time I was introduced to him, I had gone to a Washington County football game with a friend of mine that lived in Sandersville and he introduced me to Thomas.”
Through the years after that first meeting, King said he worked with Smith on numerous cases, dating back to when he worked with the Ocmulgee Drug Task Force.
“I worked with him on several different occasions with the task force,” King said. “At one time they were hosting K-9 training for people. And I did that once a week in Washington County for a while.”
King said Smith “was always super nice to him and always a big supporter of me.”
The veteran detective said the working relationship between him and Smith evolved over the years into a personal friendship.
“We were friends,” King said. “He was a genuinely nice guy. That’s what I’m going to remember most about Sheriff Smith.”
Kings said he hated to hear about Smith’s death.
“He had gone through some extremely difficult struggles in his personal life, medically speaking, and things like that,” King said. “He was truly someone you could look up to because of his drive and determination. Personally, I believe he could have been sheriff as long as he wanted to be.”
Through the years, King said the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office had always had “an excellent relationship” with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
“If I call down there and say, ‘Hey, can y’all check on this for me,’ it’s a guarantee someone’s getting up and checking on it, and we do the same thing here at the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office,” King said.