Deputy Sheriff James Lee Williams – who “cared about people,” Sheriff Carl Sparks said – was fondly and in Sparks’ case, tearfully eulogized by his family and more than 500 friends and fellow officers.
Williams, 41, was killed in a two-car crash at a rural intersection while on call rushing to a party that was breaking up. His patrol car collided with another vehicle at a four-way stop. The driver of the other vehicle, who also died, had begun to pull into the intersection when his automobile was hit. Both vehicles were destroyed.
Williams’ death was the 25th of a law enforcement officer in Kern County as a result of an accident involving one or more motor vehicles, with eight officers now having been killed in such accidents since 1980.
Sparks said illness should have prevented Williams from being on duty the day he was killed, but because of his devotion to his job “he went on duty because his squad needed him.”
“Jim, we’re proud of you,” the sheriff said and, his voice breaking. “we’re going to miss you.” “You will always be part of our family.”
About 200 of Williams’ fellow deputies and numerous officers from other law enforcement agencies were represented, from as far away as San Diego. Among the mourners was former Sheriff Larry Kleier.
The Rev. E. F. “Bud” Frye presided, with Sparks and Williams’ son, Gene, and brother-in-law, John Crabtree, speaking about the deputy.
Frye said Williams was “a very special man… who was diversified in the things he did and the things he shared… and family was very important to him.”
Gene Williams said of his father, “His family came first with him. He was always caring, and he felt he came after everybody else. This is a chance for him to be No. 1.”
Sparks told the solemn gathering. “The deputies at the jail called him ‘Pop’ or ‘Grandad,'” referring to Williams’ age compared to that of many other deputies.
“Jim cared about people, and I found an ‘attaboy’ in his record,” the sheriff continued. “There was a letter from a woman whose 16-year-old daughter had run away. Jim went out of his way to find the girl and took her to Juvenile Hall, then called her mother and got them together.”
Crabtree said Williams “filled the bill” of the brother he never had. “He always laughed at the dumbest jokes and loved slapstick – but if you needed him, he’d be there.”
Frye concluded the services by saying, “Jim Williams was a man who didn’t go around collecting enemies – he was too busy making friends,” and added that the deputy’s widow, Cathy, told him “she has lost her best friend.” The couple were married 21 years, and Williams also left four children.