Fallen Morgan County officers and their families remembered

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May 16—People should never forget law enforcement officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice, said Priceville Mayor Sam Heflin, but they should also never forget the families who are left behind.

Heflin spoke at the annual Morgan County Fallen Officers Memorial service in Cotaco Park behind the Morgan County Courthouse on Wednesday, along with Morgan County Commission Chairman Ray Long and Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling.

The Decatur Police Department Honor Guard presented colors and Decatur High student Temperance Ricks sang the national anthem. After the Pledge of Allegiance, Heflin stood at the podium and said citizens should always remember and respect the families who have had law enforcement family members killed on duty.

"What I want to tell you all here today is if you have lost a family member in the line of duty, we are here today to pay tribute to them," Heflin said. "We are here to honor them, but we also want you to know that we haven't forgotten you."

The memorial service honored 10 officers who were killed in the line of duty in Morgan County, including state troopers, Decatur police, Morgan County sheriff's deputies and a conservation officer. Hartselle Chief of Police Justin Barley read the roll call, announcing the officers' names and how they died.

The first officers killed in Morgan County were Decatur police officers E.L. Steele and William A. Baber in 1905. Both were shot and killed by suspects they were attempting to arrest.

The most recent police fatality in Morgan County was the death of Deputy Charles W. Biles of the Morgan County Sheriff's Office on May 21, 1985, after being shot by a man near Brewer High School. Retired Morgan County sheriff's Capt. Walter "Bubba" Price was at the ceremony and said he vividly remembered the day the call went out about Biles being shot. Price retired as a captain with the Morgan County Drug Task Force, working for the Sheriff's Office from 1972 to 2001.

"He had talked to the (suspect) earlier that morning at the school," Price said.

The suspect shot Biles in the chest later that day with a semiautomatic rifle, according to the Sheriff's Office, then fled in his vehicle. Biles, 64, returned fire and hit the suspect's gas tank, causing him to eventually run out of gas. He was later apprehended by police in Cullman County. Biles succumbed to his injuries two days later.

Morgan County Sheriff Ron Puckett and Price said they both believe the suspect intended to shoot students at Brewer High School because he was carrying multiple weapons and ammunition. Price said if it had not been for Biles' sacrifice, hundreds of young lives could have been in jeopardy that day.

"He was a really dedicated officer," said Price, who worked with Biles for 12 years. "He was always good with younger officers trying to teach them the right things to do."

The grandchildren of the late Officer Loyd C. Hays were in attendance and were accompanied by a Morgan County sheriff's deputy as Hays' name was called and the deputy placed a rose in a vase in his memory. Hays, a conservation officer, was shot and stabbed near Flint Creek on May 2, 1964, leaving behind a wife and five children.

Julie Gore, who attended along with sisters Lori Dudley and Karen Sparkman and Hays' great-great-grandson Bentley Gore, said their mother was 18 years old when her father was killed.

"It was the day of her senior prom and she said she heard it on the radio, and by the time she got home, their whole yard was full of media," Dudley said.

Gore said when her grandfather passed, three of his five children were under the age of 18.

"Our grandmother went to the trial with all of his children," Gore said.

Sparkman said she wants people to realize that conservation officers like her grandfather take the same risks as other law enforcement.

"Game wardens aren't looked at like a police officer is," Sparkman said. "But they are just in the line of duty as a police officer and I think they are forgotten about sometimes."

State Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, was the keynote speaker for this year's ceremony. Before being elected to the House of Representatives, Reynolds served as a police officer and as the Huntsville chief of police.

Reynolds also spoke to the families of the fallen officers and assured them he will never forget them and their relatives' sacrifices and gave a nod to all law enforcement officers currently serving.

"As I look around this crowd, men and women got up this morning, strapped on that badge, put on that weapon, and they came to work without hesitation," Reynolds said. "There are officers among us who may have been shot or injured in the line of duty, but they fought to overcome that both mentally and physically and they continue to serve this community."

wes.tomlinson@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2442.