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Deputies’ lives touched thousands

Posted: November 29, 2013 11:57 a.m.
Updated: December 2, 2013 5:00 a.m.

I did not know Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) Deputy Rob Evans, who passed away last week. I knew him, but only in the sense that I spoke to him a few times when the two of us happened to be at KCSO headquarters at the same time. Evans certainly seemed like a nice guy; I remember him smiling a lot.

I never met Chris Potter III, the deputy killed in the line of duty back in 1974 on a stretch of I-20 eastbound between Elgin and Lugoff. I got to know something of him, however, through his family and friends a few yers ago. He, too, seemed like someone I would have liked to have known.

Last Wednesday -- through stories printed in Friday’s C-I -- turned into one of those strange days when the community remembered two people in the same profession at the same time for different reasons and in different ... and yet, perhaps, the same ways.

These stories are even intertwined by geography as both men lived and, mostly, worked in the West Wateree area.

Kershaw County, but especially the Lugoff area, is still mourning Rob Evans’ loss. While directing traffic last Tuesday afternoon in front of Wateree Elementary School (WES) -- something he had only started doing in the last year, I understand -- he collapsed from a heart attack. While it was touch-and-go, the news we received seemed positive at first. Two unidentified nurses in line to pick up their kids at WES jumped out and began administering CPR. Lugoff Fire Department Chief Dennis Ray was there, too, and tried to help, calling his fire department for help. Firefighters used a portable defibrillator. EMS arrived. Law enforcement, including the Camden Police Department, opened up the way to KershawHealth so he could be stabilized. Other agencies did the same as EMS transported Evans again, this time to Providence in Columbia.

I called Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews -- just to check in -- between covering Camden City Council’s work session and regular meeting Tuesday. By then, Evans was in ICU; it seemed like he might be OK.

Even as I came in early to work Wednesday morning, around 7 a.m., we still had every intention of publishing a story Friday about how thankful everyone would be ... only to learn a few minutes later that Evans had passed away.

In addition to directing traffic at WES, he was a school resource officer at Lugoff-Elgin Middle School, which I understand has taken his loss hard. He was the “Voice of the Demons,” the school’s assistant basketball coach, brought Rachel’s Challenge to the school, and helped the ALPHA Center out with its anti-bullying programs and the KCSO’s STARS summer camp for middle schoolers.

Needless to say, Kershaw County -- especially its kids -- was better off for having Rob Evans as a deputy and neighbor.

Several years ago, I wrote a multi-part series called “Death of a Deputy,” looking back at the events and people surrounding KCSO Chris Potter’s death in 1974. I and our former editor, Martha Bruce, along with publisher Mike Mischner, poured through hundreds of documents. I conducted hours upon hours of interviews with J.C. Tollison, his partner, who was shot that day, too; his best friend, Harold Brown, who has been Elgin’s police chief for 20 years now; his wife, Jeanne, and his son, Chris, both of whom I’m very glad to have met.

It was clear to me while working on that series that Potter meant a lot not only to his family and closest friends, but to the community at large. His death had a huge impact. One of the old photos I remember is of a massive line of law enforcement strung along I-20 near the Elgin exit as part of the manhunt for his killers.

As I wrote in one of the series’ entries: There were hundreds of civilian volunteers, officers and National Guardsmen involved in combing the 10,000 acres bordered by S.C. 12, U.S. 601 and Kennedy Drive. Planes and helicopters were sent up. Gov. John Carl West, who was born in Kershaw County, offered a $5,000 reward for the suspects’ arrests.

In that same story -- focused on Jeanne -- more words bring up images of Highway Pentecostal Holiness Church filled beyond capacity with 1,200 people for his funeral and of a “miles-long line of law enforcement vehicles that led the procession from Highway Church to Hillcrest Baptist Church’s cemetery, only 1 1/2 miles away. The line was so long that Jeannie had to wait in the car for them all to arrive at the cemetery. Deputies came up and talked to her, telling her how sorry they were about Chris.”

Wednesday, people filled Highway Pentecostal’s walls again to pay tribute to Potter by unveiling mockups of signs that will designate a portion of I-20 in his name.

Through “Death of a Deputy,” I learned that Kershaw County, and especially Elgin, was better off having had Chris Potter III as a deputy and a neighbor.

The circumstances of Rob Evans and Chris Potter’s deaths are not the same. Still, I would not be surprised to learn if thousands of people turned out for Evans’ funeral yesterday. I am betting his fellow deputies will have stories to tell his family about their comrade, just as they told Jeannie Potter about Chris all those years ago.

Thank you for your service, gentlemen. We are grateful for your time in our company.

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