Dozens of people lined the streets outside downtown businesses late afternoon Monday, watching solemnly as a white hearse carrying slain police officer Tim Smith’s body arrived home.
A party was being planned to celebrate his 31st birthday Monday, but instead, arrangements were being made to bury him.
Just hours before the motorcade of law enforcement rolled through town with Smith’s body, 24-year-old Royheem Delshawn Deeds was found hiding in the trunk of his sister’s car in Nassau County, Florida. He is charged with murder in connection with Smith’s killing.
Deeds, of Lumber City, his sister, 22-year-old Franshawn Deeds, and her boyfriend, 32-year-old Jamil Mitchell, all were arrested and are being held in the Nassau County Jail awaiting extradition back to Georgia.
“You never think it would happen in a town like this, but you never know, that’s for sure,” Eastman Police Chief Becky Sheffield said as Smith’s body was on its way back from the GBI crime lab in Atlanta. “Every day any of us comes to work, we never know if we’re going to go home at the end of the day.”
Smith was shot about 9:30 p.m. Saturday after answering a call about a man with a gun behaving suspiciously, according to a GBI news release. Smith left his vehicle to talk with the man and shots were fired, the release said. Smith fired back, but the suspect fled.
Smith was able to radio in that he’d been shot. He was taken to Dodge County Hospital where he later died. He is survived by three children, ages 7, 5 and an infant, Sheffield said.
“It’s still like it isn’t even real,” she said of the town’s first fallen officer in her 39-year tenure.
Among those who brought blue bows, flowers and food to the Eastman Police Department on Monday were some store clerks.
“We’re gonna miss Turtle,” said Sherry Humes, a store clerk at a Flash Foods. “We called him Turtle because he was short and he had a short neck. ... We always knew we could cut the fool with him. He’s going to be very much missed.”
Employees along 5th Avenue paused while working to pay respects as the motorcade of blue lights rolled through to Stokes-Southerland Funeral Home late afternoon Monday.
Nancy Knight, a waitress at the Huddle House, consoled weeping Officer William Rose, who’d worked alongside Smith for a few years.
Knight said she had met officers Smith and Rose when she and her cousin were trying to rescue a starving horse in 2013.
“We called the local police department and Rose and Turtle were the first ones on the scene and they tried to help us save it,” Knight said. “We stayed there for hours, talking, waiting on someone to show up so we could do something about this horse. Ever since then, they started calling me the horse lady.”
Bank workers paid respects to Smith as the motorcade of blue lights rolled through town.
“I knew his fiance. She’s heartbroken. I can’t even imagine how she feels right now,” said bank teller Chelsea Barrentine standing by the street. “They’ve been engaged for a few months now. It hasn’t been long. They have a 5-month-old little girl together. … A little girl named Madison.”
Barrentine said Smith had planned to marry Chelsea Clark, who works at a nearby Flash Foods.
“Everybody’s met him in some kind of way,” said Shantae Smith, another bank teller. “I met him when I worked at Subway. … He always liked to joke. All the time. Like his favorite joke was, ‘Would you let somebody pay you a million dollars to get shot?’ and we’ll be like, ‘No.’ And he’ll say, ‘Well, us police officers, we do it everyday for a much cheaper price.’ ”
Shantae Smith, who is not related to the officer, said she remembered taking the trash out at Subway one night when Officer Smith told her she “didn’t need to be walking in the dark like that.”
Officers then “picked up their lights and started shining them over there and I had a whole (lighted) way to walk to the trash can,” she said.
Police Officer Terry Davis started the job about five years ago, a few months after Smith was hired. The two usually worked opposite shifts.
“Even though I didn’t know him like some of the others did, it’s going to be tough,” Davis said.
Smith drove trucks before becoming a lawman, following in the footsteps of his father, who was a police officer in Glenwood, Davis said.
“I do remember him saying how much more money he made driving a truck than this,” Davis said. “There’s not an officer in law enforcement out there that will sit there and say they do it for money.”
The funeral service for Smith is set for 2 p.m. Thursday at the First Baptist Church in Eastman.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Officer Tim Smith's age.