Within the past two weeks, the Pikeville post of the Kentucky State Police has endured an unusually high level of misfortune while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy and professionalism across five counties.
“I've never seen a time frame when we've had this many emotional situations to deal with,” said Trooper Scott Hopkins, a 16-year veteran of the Pikeville post.
A staff of nine detectives and 39 troopers makes the post one of the largest in the state, covering the rugged, mountainous terrain of Pike, Floyd, McGoffin, Johnson and Martin counties.
The first death happened Dec. 19, when Trooper Jonathan K. Leonard, 28, a three-year veteran of the Pikeville post was killed after he turned his cruiser into the path of another vehicle. Leonard, who was not wearing his seatbelt, was the first Kentucky state trooper to die on duty in 18 years.
Still reeling from Leonard's death, the Pikeville post lost 16-year veteran Detective Stewart “Joey” Howard, 45, to a heart attack on Monday.
Hopkins said the deaths were more than a simple loss of personnel.
“With just Detective Howard's death, we're losing 16 years of investigative skills that can't be brought back,” Hopkins said.
On Tuesday, Trooper Billy Joe Caudill, 24, was seriously injured when he was struck by a car while assisting with a two-vehicle accident along U.S. 23.
As the troopers prepared for Howard's funeral and Caudill recovered from his injuries, two state police officers shot a Pike County man to death after a chase Thursday night when he refused to comply with police orders and reached for a gun on the passenger side of the vehicle, state police spokesman Lt. Phil Crumpton said.
Trooper Chris Phillips and state vehicle enforcement Officer Keith Justice suffered minor injuries when they opened fire on John Keen, 26, of Elkhorn City, state police spokesman Lt. Phil Crumpton said.
Both were placed on administrative leave while the investigation continued, Crumpton said.
“They've had some trying times the past couple of weeks,” Crumpton added. “And the calls are still coming in to the radio room.”
To keep up with day-to-day calls, dozens of troopers and dispatchers from other posts have volunteered to work at the Pikeville post, allowing colleagues time to mourn and recoup.
“We're here for the duration,” said Trooper Lockard, a 21-year veteran at the Morehead post who is assisting officers in Pikeville. “If you're a trooper, you're a part of a family.”