From Susan Candiotti and Lateef Mungin,
WILLIAMSON, West Virginia (CNN) — A slain West Virginia sheriff’s widow will take over her late husband’s job, a county board decided Thursday, a day after he was killed, allegedly by a man with a history of mental health issues.
Rosie Crum will be sworn in at 8 p.m. Thursday as interim sheriff of Mingo County at the county courthouse — in the same place and at the same time as a vigil is held for her late husband, Walter E. “Eugene” Crum. She will serve in that position until at least 2014, when an election will be held.
The three commissioners’ unanimous vote to appoint Rosie Crum came during an emotional meeting Thursday in the courthouse in Williamson, just blocks from where and one day after a man fatally shot Eugene Crum.
Rosie Crum “is the best person to fulfill” her husband’s commitment to carry out what Eugene Crum wanted to do in office, including taking steps to curb drug abuse in the county, county Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith said.
The man who authorities believe killed the sheriff — as he was eating lunch in his department vehicle — remains hospitalized. Tennis Melvin Maynard, 37, was shot in the chest by sheriff’s deputies after a chase and is expected to survive, a state police spokesman said Thursday.
Authorities still haven’t said why they think Sheriff Crum was shot blocks from the courthouse in the southwest corner of the state.
The suspect “said some things to us” on his way to the hospital Thursday, West Virginia State Police First Sgt. Michael Baylous said.
“We’re still trying to make sense of it,” Baylous said of Maynard’s comments. “It could be interpreted in different ways.”
Maynard’s father has told CNN affiliate WSAZ that his son had mental health issues caused by a workplace accident in Alabama and that he had been exposed to dangerous chemicals.
On Thursday, a source with knowledge of the suspect’s past told CNN that Maynard had spent time at a state hospital for mental health issues within the past couple of years.
Maynard spent an unspecified amount of time at the facility, according to the source, who was unable to say who sought the care for Maynard — family, police or someone else.
Sheriff’s slaying ‘devastating’
Authorities think Maynard is the man who parked his car close to the sheriff’s, walked up and shot through the window, according to a state official briefed on the investigation. The man then fled in his car.
As the suspect recuperated, many wondered why someone would target Crum, a sheriff known for his tough stance on drug dealers.
“He and his deputies and other law enforcement agencies have worked tirelessly to wipe out crime in our county, especially targeting the drug dealers who spread the disease of addiction among our residents,” said John Mark Hubbard, president of the Mingo County Commission.
“Pray for the residents of Mingo County as we struggle to understand why someone who fought so freely and selflessly on behalf of all of us was taken so tragically,” he said.
A search of Mingo County court records show no criminal arrests or civil cases involving Maynard. His only citation involves failure to wear a seat belt, according to the records.
Crum, 59, took office as sheriff in January and quickly earned respect from many in the community, officials said. A father and grandfather, he also served as a county magistrate and a special investigator for the prosecutor’s office.
The sheriff’s slaying shook the rural county, which normally sees only one or two slayings per year, said Lt. Randy Hatfield of the Mingo County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s devastating,” Hatfield said. “It’s a big blow to the community.”
Asked whether officials thought there was any connection between Crum’s slaying and the recent killing of a Colorado prison official or the slayings of two Texas prosecutors, Hatfield said, “I hope not,” but declined to elaborate.
CNN’s Susan Candiotti reported this story from Williamson, West Virginia, and Lateef Mungin wrote this story from Atlanta. CNN’s Ross Levitt and Jason Hanna contributed to this report.