Update: Metro Agent Keith Slay's funeral set; Deputy Evans released from hospital

Visitation 3-5 p.m. Sunday at McMullen Funeral Home

tchitwood@ledger-enqurier.comJuly 30, 2013 

UPDATE (11:42 a.m. Friday): Deputy Brad Evans was released from the hospital, Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor said during an unrelated press conference Friday.

"Obviously, he's going to be out of work for some time, but the doctors felt like he had progressed enough to be released," Taylor said.

Taylor asked that residents continue to keep Evans' family and Columbus Metro Narcotics Task Force Agent Thomas "Keith" Slay's family in their thoughts and prayers.

UPDATE (8:22 p.m.): Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor said Thursday via text message that Deputy Brad Evans was moved out of ICU due to significant improvement. Now in a private room, the sheriff said Evans was "doing great" and "progressing every day."

The deputy is awake and alert, "talking and walking even," Taylor said.

UPDATE (3:17 p.m.): The funeral for Columbus Metro Narcotics Task Force Agent Thomas "Keith" Slay will be 11 a.m. Monday at Cascade Hills Church, 727 54th St., according to McMullen Funeral Home.

Visitation will be 3-5 p.m. Sunday at the funeral home, 3874 Gentian Blvd.

In addition, RiverTown Church will host a memorial service Wednesday, Aug. 7, at 6 p.m. The church is at 6953 Schomburg Road in Columbus. The church will also hold a memorial bike ride on Saturday, Aug. 10, at 10:30 a.m. Meet at Iron Banks Coffee in downtown Columbus. Learn more here.

UPDATE (11:39 a.m.): Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor said Thursday morning via text message that Deputy Brad Evans may be moved out of the ICU ward later today due to significant improvement. Taylor said he is unsure what ward Evans would be moved to at this time.

UPDATE: While Columbus Police Cpl. Thomas “Keith” Slay’s family and friends mourn his death from a wreck Tuesday afternoon on Veterans Parkway, those close to Russell County Deputy Brad Evans wait and hope.

Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor said Wednesday that Evans, 26, a passenger in the Ford truck Slay was driving with its blue lights and siren running, sustained a serious head injury in the accident.

Police said the wreck was caused by another motorist’s vehicle striking the truck, which ran off the road and smashed into a utility pole on the driver’s side. Both officers were rushed to The Medical Center, where Slay, 53, was pronounced dead at 3:52 p.m. He leaves behind a wife and 22-year-old son, said Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren. Funeral arrangements from Columbus’ McMullen Funeral home are pending.

Taylor said doctors induced a coma Tuesday to aid Evans’ recovery, and the deputy came out of it Wednesday. Evans likely faces a long recovery, but appears to be steadily improving, Taylor said.

“His condition is stable. He is still in ICU,” the sheriff said of the hospital’s intensive care unit. “We are encouraged by his progress. At this time, we are dealing with a head injury, a brain injury, and that’s the main problem that he’s facing.”

Evans has a 3-year-old son and a wife who’s eight months’ pregnant, the sheriff said.

He said Evans has been with the sheriff’s department for three years, and so excelled at his patrol duties he was assigned to the multi-agency Metro Narcotics Task Force, which conducts regional drug enforcement with officers authorized to operate in both Georgia and Alabama.

“We recently sent him to Metro, and he was doing an excellent job,” Taylor said of Evans. “He’s eager to learn. He’s a hard worker. He does excellent paperwork, and he was just in his infant stages of being a great agent.”

Slay had served with the narcotics task force in his 32 years in law enforcement, which began July 6, 1981, when he joined the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy.

He transferred to the police department on May 18, 1987, and was promoted to detective, the same rank as corporal, on April 30, 1993.

More recently he has served as the police department’s helicopter pilot, having been an accomplished airplane pilot before training at Alabama’s Fort Rucker to gain expertise in helicopter operation. Boren asked him to set up an aviation unit under Metro Narcotics in 2003, the chief said.

“He was put in charge of that project, and we probably had, or have, one of the best aviation units in the state of Georgia at this time, and all of the thanks for that went to Keith Slay,” Boren said.

He said the department will have to contract with a pilot until a replacement can be trained.

The chief described Slay as an “extremely loyal, extremely dedicated individual,” adding, “He was not only a working acquaintance but a close family friend also. Keith will be greatly missed by this department and by myself and my family.”

Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson requested a citywide moment of silence to honor Slay at 4 p.m. Wednesday, and city flags will fly at half-staff for two more days.

During a news conference Wednesday, Boren said police are not at liberty yet to discuss the details of Tuesday’s wreck, which accident investigators with the department’s motor-patrol unit are probing. He said authorities also are not prepared to disclose information on the Metro Narcotics operation in which Slay and Evans were involved.

So far police have said only that Slay and Evans were responding to another officer’s request for backup. Headed north on Veteran’s Parkway around 3 p.m., Slay had the truck’s blue lights flashing and siren wailing when another car cut into his lane, smacking the truck and sending it into a sideways slide.

As the truck left the road, it hit the pole with enough force to snap the object in half. The impact crushed the roof of the truck’s cab and shattered the windshield.

The wreck happened near the B. Merrell’s restaurant at 7600 Veterans Parkway, between Double Churches Road and Williams Road.

Boren said Slay’s death marks the first time a Metro Narcotics agent has died in the line of duty — despite innumerable close calls, including an officer’s injury last January when a suspect struck her with his car as agents tried to make an arrest at a Macon Road gas station.

The special unit was formed in 1989, Boren said.

Columbus police have not lost an officer in the line of duty since 2002. Russell County has not lost a deputy on duty since 1998. Both deaths resulted from traffic accidents.

The Columbus officer was Ronnie Bowers, 40, who served in motorcycle patrol and died after an Dec. 19, 2001, accident caused by a van driver’s turning left in front of him, forcing Bowers to lock his brakes and slide into the rear of a vehicle stopped in front of him. The van driver never stopped.

After numerous surgeries and lingering complications, Bowers appeared to have recovered from his injuries and returned to work. But abruptly his condition deteriorated, and again he was hospitalized. He died Oct. 10, 2002, after serving 11 years with the department.

The Russell County deputy was Jimmy Roberts, 59. He was hit by a car on U.S. 431 while directing traffic for a Twin Cities Classic Horse Show at Austin Sumbry Park on June 27, 1998.

Like Bowers, Roberts sustained severe injuries: Both his legs were broken, as were an arm and his collar bone. Wearing a reflective vest and standing near three marked cars with their blue lights flashing, Roberts had been in the middle of the highway when the car hit him. The driver was not charged.

Roberts died at The Medical Center on July 7, 1998. Law enforcement authorities at the time said Roberts’ death illustrated the danger officers face not from fighting violent crime, but from even more mundane duties such as directing traffic.

“Traffic is a big issue,” said the director of the National Sheriffs Association.

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and Police Chief Ricky Boren asked government employees and Columbus citizens to hold a moment of silence in honor of Officer Thomas Keith Slay at 4 p.m. in a press release issued Wednesday morning.

"We ask that you lift up his family at this difficult time and pray for their comfort and peace of mind in the face of this tragedy," the press release stated.

Tomlinson and Boren also announced that all flags will be raised at half-mast for three days in memory of Slay.

Tomlinson asked in the press release that citizens and employees join city officials in "continued thoughts and prayers" for Russell County Agent Brad Evans, who was critically injured during Tuesday's accident on Veterans Parkway.

Evans is showing signs of improvement Wednesday after he was seriously injured in a Veterans Parkway wreck which killed one officer.

Sheriff Heath Taylor told The Ledger-Enquirer via text Wednesday morning that Evans' condition is stable and his vitals are improving. He has not yet been released from the ICU.

"(Evans is) still not out of the woods yet, but he is making improvements," Taylor wrote.

Original

An undercover Metro Narcotics Task Force officer was killed and another seriously injured Tuesday as their truck crashed on Veterans Parkway while en route to aid another officer, authorities said.

Columbus Police Cpl. Thomas Keith Slay, 53, died of his injuries at The Medical Center, Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan confirmed. Russell County Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Evans suffered head injuries and underwent surgery at the hospital, Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor said.

Both were assigned to the multi-agency drug task force, administrators said.

Slay was pronounced dead at 3:52 p.m. from the blunt force trauma sustained in the crash.

After emergency surgery, Evans was in the intensive care unit at 7:30 p.m., Taylor said. Evans was listed in critical condition.

The wreck happened around 3 p.m. across from B. Merrell’s on north Veterans. Slay was driving an unmarked black Ford pickup that had blue lights and sirens activated, police said. The officers were on an operation and going to assist another officer in a traffic stop.

Another vehicle entering the truck’s lane hit the officers’ northbound truck, sending it into a sideways slide, police said. As the truck left the road, its driver’s side struck a utility pole and snapped the pole in half. Georgia Power workers had to do repairs before the officer’s vehicle could be towed away.

The roof of the truck’s cab was smashed and the front windshield shattered.

The accident happened near Columbus Body Works Northlake. A Columbus Body Works employee said he heard a loud boom and rushed out of the building.

“It sounded like a bomb going off,” Alan Brown said. When he came outside he saw a “big cloud of dust.”

Sheriff Taylor was in Florida on business Tuesday and was returning to Russell County that night. He was getting regular updates.

“We are praying for all of the parties involved,” Taylor said. “My guy is a young deputy with a young family.”

Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, the city’s public safety director, echoed the sheriff’s sentiments.

“I want to point that Cpl. Slay was serving the citizens until the end,” she said. “For that we are eternally grateful.”

Besides serving on the drug task force, Slay was the unit’s helicopter pilot. He had more than 30 years in law enforcement in Columbus, first with the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office, then with the police department.

Columbus police released this statement Tuesday night from Chief Ricky Boren, “Obviously, this is a devastating time for the families of those lost and injured and for the brethren of officers that served with these men. We ask the entire community to lift Special Agents Slay and Evans up in prayer, as well as their families. We are talking about true public servants and law enforcement officers, and this is just devastating to us all.”

Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr called Slay “a great guy and great law enforcement officer.”

“He was always very professional,” Darr said. “You can’t say that about everybody. He was dedicated to the job and he is going to be missed. It is a huge loss.”

The Motor Squad of the Columbus Police a Department is investigating the incident.

Staff writers Tim Chitwood, Tiffany Stevens and Chuck Williams contributed to this report.

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