ELIZABETHTOWN, NC — The jail inmates working a roadside cleanup detail in Elizabethtown, North Carolina, last week had every chance to escape when the officer supervising them collapsed. Instead, they stayed put, called 911, flagged down a driver and looked after the officer, James Smith, until paramedics arrived.
Despite their efforts, Smith, 62, died Sunday at a Duke University hospital in Durham. The Bladen County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release that Smith began feeling unwell about 2:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 2, and then started “weaving and passed out.”
Bladen County officials said Smith suffered a stroke while working with the inmates, who were on road cleanup detail under a North Carolina misdemeanor confinement program for nonviolent offenders. For every 30 days inmates work, four days are shaved off their sentences.
Bladen County Chief Deputy Larry Guyton told ABC News that Smith was well-liked by the inmates and he treated them well. The fact that the inmates stayed with the officer and called for help “means a lot to law enforcement” and reflects their mutual respect for one another, Guyton said.
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“In this day and time, we’re not the most popular people in the world,” Guyton told the network of police, “and it’s nice to know that there are people that still care. It doesn’t matter that they were inmates or not, they were men and human beings, and they reached out to help someone in need.
“Just because they end up in jail for a crime, it doesn’t mean they’re bad people,” Guyton added. “We all make mistakes and these men are readily paying for their mistakes, and they’re trying to improve themselves.”
The three inmates — Roy William Smith, Rosendo Morales-Sanchez, and Franklin Edens Jr. — wre recognized for their efforts to save the officer last week, The Bladen Journal reported.
Smith, who had worked at the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office from 2002 – 2003, rejoined the force last year to work part-time. He had worked at the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office for 15 years.
The sheriff’s office announced Smith’s death in a Monday post on Facebook.
“This is a huge loss to the Sheriff’s Office and the citizens of this great County,” the post read in part.
Smith’s burial is Friday.
Photo via Shutterstock