John Barnes appointed Washington County sheriff

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The man who was going to be John Sawyer's chief deputy was appointed Washington County sheriff Monday evening.

John Barnes was selected in a 3-2 vote by county commissioners.

Sawyer died one week ago at age 46. He was a week away from being sworn in as sheriff, which family members say was his lifelong dream.

Commissioners met in special session this afternoon after nine people signed up as being interested in the open position.

Two commissioners voted to appoint incumbent Sheriff James Ross, who lost to Sawyer in the primary election.

Barnes told commissioners he wanted to carry on Sawyer's mission for Washington County. Barnes will serve the entire four-year term as sheriff.

Barnes has 33 years of law enforcement experience.

He has worked at the Plymouth police department, Washington County Sheriff Office as a deputy, and is a retired captain with Marine Patrol.

Barnes was most recently a deputy with the Tyrrell County Sheriff's Office when he left to become John Sawyer's chief deputy

Barnes is 54-years-old, was born in Elizabeth City and raised in Washington County.


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The unusual process of naming a new sheriff after the sheriff-elect died suddenly is underway in Washington County, and three men who ran for the office want the job.

John Sawyer died one week ago at age 46. He was a week away from being sworn in as sheriff of Washington County, which family members say was his lifelong dream.

The county set up a sign-up list for potential appointees Monday morning. Those interested had to visit clerk Julie Bennett before noon to be considered.

County officials say nine people signed up for consideration. Those include current sheriff James Ross and sheriff candidates Kevin Sawyer & Greg Hassell.

Ross was defeated in the Democratic primary in May by John Sawyer with only a 31 vote difference.

Kevin Sawyer, who ran as an unaffiliated candidate in last month's general election, also signed up with the clerk. He received just 25% of the vote. The two Sawyers were not related.

Hassell ran for sheriff in 2010 as a Republican, losing to Ross in two close elections. The first one, Ross won by just three votes. After the state ordered a new election, Ross came out on top by 125 votes.

Others who want the job are: John Ray Barnes, Ivan Hester Fowler, Jr., Arlo Norman, Charles Bernard Norman, Morris (Mickey) Gene Robbins, Sr., and James Wilkins.

County commissioners interviewed each candidate and are expected to announce their decision at 6:00 p.m.


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A funeral will be held Saturday for the man who was supposed to be sworn in as Washington County's next sheriff on Monday.

John Sawyer died unexpectedly this past Monday morning at his Plymouth home. He defeated the incumbent sheriff in the primary, and then won the general election earlier this month.

Sawyer's funeral will be at 11:00 a.m. Saturday at the Plymouth Church of Christ. Burial will follow at the Respass-Sawyer Family Cemetery. The family will receive friends Friday night starting at 6:00 at the church.

A memorial fund has been set up at Southern Bank in Plymouth. Donations can be made to the John Sawyer Memorial Fund, c/o Southern Bank, 612 Washington Street, Plymouth, NC 27962.

County commissioners are expected to select a new sheriff at a special meeting Monday afternoon.


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Washington County is asking for people to come forward who are interested in being appointed sheriff.

Sheriff-elect John Sawyer died unexpectedly Monday morning, one week before he was supposed to be sworn in.

The county will set up a sign-up list for potential appointees Monday morning. Those interested must visit clerk Julie Bennett between 8:30 a.m. and noon to be considered.

County commissioners will then meet during a special meeting at 3:00 p.m. to appoint a new sheriff. Those who sign up for the appointment must also attend the 3:00 p.m. meeting.

If you have questions about the process you can contact the clerk at 252-793-5823.

The 46-year-old Sawyer died at his home, apparently from natural causes. His funeral arrangements are still pending.


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The man who was supposed to be sworn in as sheriff of Washington County one week from today has died.

Washington County Manager Jerry Rhodes says John Sawyer passed away at his home this morning of natural causes. He was 46 years old.

Sawyer's second cousin, Tim Copeland tells WITN, "It was his lifelong dream to be sheriff of Washington County."

A family friend tells WITN's Brendan King that Sawyer's wife, who is an EMT, found her husband dead in the recliner this morning. They say Sawyer had been looking "tired" since Friday.

Saywer leaves behind his wife, Denise, and a son.

Sawyer defeated current sheriff James Ross in the Democratic primary in May. In the general election earlier this month, Sawyer won over Kevin Sawyer, who is a detective in the sheriff's office. The two men have the same last name but are not related, according to Rhodes.

Rhodes says the county manager's office is "reeling" from the news of Sawyer's death. "He was a fine guy," Rhodes said. "A nice man and we were looking forward to working with him."

Rhodes says Sawyer spent the last week in sheriff training classes.

Rhodes said he planned to meet with the county attorney and the board of commissioners chairman today to determine what's next for the sheriff position in Washington County. Rhodes said the county attorney has already reached out the North Carolina Sheriff's Association and the School of Government at UNC--Chapel Hill. Rhodes says, according to those groups, either this has never happened or the occurrence is extremely rare. The two groups are researching how Washington County should handle this impending vacancy and plan to provide some guidance. Rhodes expects they will have a plan in place by next Monday, when Sawyer was supposed to be sworn in to replace Sheriff Ross.

UNC's School of Government provides advice and training for county and city government officials, elected and administrative, throughout the state.

Josh Lawson with the North Carolina Board of Elections, citing state law, says county commissioners will have to treat this as a vacancy and appoint a new sheriff. The appointee would serve a full four-year term.

During his campaign, Sawyer said he started at the Washington County Sheriff's Office back in 1994 as a 911 communicator. He then went to Basic Law Enforcement Training and worked at the Plymouth Police Department for 16 years.