HUNTSVILLE — Scott County nearly came to a standstill Friday, as Sheriff Mike Cross was memorialized and later laid to rest, capping a week of mourning for what many were calling the best sheriff in the community's history.
Schools throughout Scott County dismissed at noon, and all county government offices were closed all day, as the community prepared for the funeral of Sheriff Cross — a funeral that White Rock Baptist Church pastor Jim West would later say was not "an ordinary funeral" as he called Sheriff Cross a dignitary; someone who "made a difference in our community."
Sheriff Cross died Sunday, Dec. 8, at the age of 56, following a short battle with a rare form of melanoma.
Later, as a funeral procession stretching well over a mile and including hundreds of patrol cars made its way from White Rock to Fairview Memorial Gardens, Friday rush hour traffic along S.R. 63 literally did come to a standstill.
The procession passed beneath a giant American flag hung from an arch formed by several fire departments as it progressed through the Little Creek neighborhood in east Huntsville, and Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers blocked traffic in either direction at the cemetery to allow for the huge throng of mourners to make their way to the cemetery.
Along the route, dozens of Scott Countians lined the road — some in their Sunday best and some children holding flowers in a show of support — as the procession passed. All local law enforcement agencies were represented at the funeral, including every member of the Scott County Sheriff's Department. All neighboring counties' sheriff's departments and police departments were well-represented as well, along with a large contingent of officers from the Knox County Sheriff's Department and departments in such out of the way locations as Bean Station. Union County Sheriff's Department officers were sent to Scott County to handle patrol duties and 911 calls that were received during the services, which lasted several hours.
Many of Cross's former officers were on hand, including two from as far away as Florida — Gerry "Greasey" Garrett and Mel Acres.
At the funeral service, West, who served as Cross's pastor, spoke of the sheriff's compassion for his fellow man.
Saying Sheriff Cross would often contact him seeking resources for persons who had been arrested, West said, "The same man who would arrest you would try to pull you back up. I believe that's love."
The county-wide prayer meetings that Cross helped form — with the help of his long-time friend David "Blue" Day and others — was a subject often broached during Friday's memorial service.
"We went from having a community of no hope, no jobs, no hospital, and an out-of-control drug problem to having a community we can be proud to call home," Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church pastor Tim Russell said of Sheriff Cross's efforts, adding that the sheriff "changed my life and my ministry."
Scott County Trustee Jimmy D. Byrd, who was also among the organizers of the county-wide prayer effort, talked of how the sheriff called him to say "We have to do something" about the out-of-control drug problem, which had claimed nine lives in an eight-week span due to overdoses.
"By the time we had the second prayer meeting, Mike was worn out," Byrd said. "He said, 'I can't get any rest.' His officers had busted 26 meth labs since that first prayer meeting. He said, 'I asked for this, didn't I?'"
Scott County still has a drug problem, Byrd said, "But it's not near as bad as it was."
At Fairview Memorial Gardens, Sheriff Cross was laid to rest not far from sheriff's deputy John John Yancey, who was killed in the line of duty in 2003, and Marine Cpl. Rusty Washam, who died in Iraq in 2006.
There, the service included the playing of Taps, Amazing Grace on the bagpipes, a 21-gun salute, and a missing man flyover of THP helicopters. The emotional service — with hundreds of law enforcement officers surrounding Cross's wife, Tammy, and children Mallory and Tyler, was capped by the "last call" — a common funeral rite of fallen law enforcement officers. With traffic stopped in either direction on S.R. 63, the only sound was the approaching helicopters in the distance as the sheriff's radio band crackled to life with the sound of a dispatcher.
"Huntsville to Unit 1."
"Huntsville to Unit 1."
"Last call for Unit 1."
"Sheriff Mike Cross, 25 years of service, is 10-7. Sheriff Mike Cross, end of watch."