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Posted May 10, 2008 | Leave a comment
Ricky Timbrook’s colleagues, friends hope Bell’s execution will bring them closure
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories about the 1999 slaying of a Winchester police officer and the man awaiting execution for the crime on Virginia’s death row.
By James Heffernan -- Daily Staff Writer
WINCHESTER - Assistant City Manager Craig Smith was new to the Winchester Police Department when Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook was gunned down in a dark alley on East Piccadilly Street near midnight on Oct. 29, 1999.
A rookie, Smith looked up to the eight-year veteran as a model police officer.
“In every department, there are people that you say, ‘I want to be just like him. He embodies the qualities or the characteristics or the talent that I want to be.’ Rick was that guy.”
On the street, Timbrook was solid, professional and dependable.
Bob Rush, a former Winchester patrolman with whom Timbrook graduated from the police academy in Waynesboro in April 1991, recalled an incident that year in which a man pulled a gun on him on Chase Street, and Timbrook arrived as his backup and helped apprehend the suspect.
“Anytime you needed him, he was there to help you.”
He was also fair, according to Winchester Sheriff Lenny Millholland, who knew Timbrook from his days as a criminal investigator with the city Police Department.
“A lot of times you have some that are a little overly aggressive in certain situations, but he could deal with people, not necessarily because of his size or stature,” Millholland said, but his demeanor.
He wasn’t just out to arrest people, added Brad Triplett, a probation and parole officer who rode with Timbrook on occasion, including the night of the slaying. “He was out in the community trying to help, trying to change people’s perspective on law enforcement.”
A student-athlete growing up in Hampshire County, W.Va., Timbrook kept in good shape as a police officer.
Tina Fitzwater, a family friend and senior paralegal in the Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, remembers Timbrook showing her the proper way to do sit-ups while she was pregnant with her first child.
But Timbrook also didn’t take himself too seriously, and was known as a practical joker.
“He was a lot of fun to be around. He made the academy a lot of fun,” Rush said.
When he was on duty, Timbrook liked to stop by the commonwealth’s attorney’s office at least once a week to check the upcoming court docket, or just to chat.
“He was a funny guy,” Fitzwater said. “He’d always lean in head-first and joke around with you.”
Jim Pearce, the office’s victim-witness coordinator and a former Nassau County, N.Y., police officer, said Timbrook always referred to him as “my Yankee buddy.”
But the image that Pearce can’t shake is of Timbrook pleading with him outside the courtroom on the Tuesday before he died.
Like many police officers, Timbrook didn’t like having to testify in court.
“I just remember him hugging me and saying, ‘C’mon, Jim, get me out of this. I want to get out on the street.’ … To this day, when an officer says that to me, I think of him.”
News of Timbrook’s death on the morning of Oct. 30, 1999, was met with shock and disbelief.
“He was the last person on the force that I thought this would happen to,” said Fitzwater, who got the call from Pearce. “I thought they were talking about another Ricky in the department, but Jim said, ‘No, Tina, I mean Ricky Timbrook.’ I just lost it. I couldn’t believe it.”
Police officers understand the dangers that they face, Rush said, “but you always thought it wouldn’t happen to you or the guys you worked with.”
Rush was off duty on the night of Timbrook’s murder. He received the phone call around 4 a.m.
“I just sat up in shock. It was almost like a really bad dream.”
“The devastating effect that it has to get a call in the middle of the night that somebody that you looked up to, or somebody that you were friends with, is gone, and that you need to get your uniform on and get into work so we can get to the job of working the case … I don’t know what you compare that to,” Smith said.
For Millholland, who had to be in the room for Timbrook’s autopsy, the memories of that time still haunt.
“If I go to city hall or I go to the police department, there are pictures of Ricky. People remember him the way they want to. But I had to do things at the autopsy that nobody would ever want to do. And to this day, I see [that image] every time I look at that picture.”
Some of Timbrook’s contemporaries on the force, including Millholland, said they plan to be on hand for the July 24 execution of Edward N. Bell, the Jamaican national convicted of the slaying.
“I think I have to be there, if for no other reason than I can see that the case went from point A [the murder] to point B [the sentencing] to point C [the execution].”
Millholland said regardless of how one views the death penalty, the sentence helps begin the healing process for family members and friends of the victim.
Rush said Bell’s death will help bring him closure as well.
“It’s not through until then. And even after that, I’ll probably never truly get over it.”
Although Timbrook relished being a road cop, his friends and fellow officers say that if he had lived, he would have been in line for the city’s now-vacant police chief position.
“I would have loved to work for him,” Smith said.
Monday: Family members say Bell’s execution will only cause more pain.
* Contact James Heffernan firstname.lastname@example.org
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