This past week, our area lost an outstanding law enforcement official and a fine husband, father and friend. DeKalb County Sheriff Andy Clark died after sustaining injuries in a car wreck that occurred while he was en route to give backup assistance to one of his deputies.
Andy was well known down around his hometown(s), Maysville and Clarksdale, as well as around the county, where his diligent efforts laid the groundwork for having a publicly funded school resource officer program in the DeKalb County schools – Maysville, Stewartsville, Osborn and, of course, Union Star.
Andy was also my second cousin: his mother, Sandra Clark, is the daughter of the late Max and Betty Pearl of Fairport; my dad’s father, the late Laverne Pearl, was Max’s oldest brother.
When I received the news last Wednesday morning that Andy had been seriously injured in a wreck that occurred at the intersection of U.S. Hwy 36 and Missouri Hwy. 33 – Osborn Junction to everyone I grew up with – I feared the worst. I am no highway expert or engineer, but the configuration of that intersection seems confusing to me, particularly with the left turn lane setup in the space between the east- and westbound lanes of 36.
My uncle, Terry Pearl, called from Maysville shortly afterward and told me that Andy had been killed. Anytime I hear about a law enforcement officer dying in the line of duty, it saddens me; this time the story was about a family member, and a small-town sheriff who had made a positive impression upon the people he worked to serve.
It’s such a sharp contrast to the national narrative, where police integrity is being challenged, and where a major city like Minneapolis could actually be considering defunding its police department. Compared with that city’s police force, the total number of law enforcement officers in DeKalb County, Missouri, is a miniscule one. For us to lose one good man or woman is a tragedy: Our state in fact, had not seen a sheriff killed in the line of duty since 1994 prior to last week’s incident.
I won’t lie, folks: I said a little prayer of thanks that the death of a law enforcement officer is still a tragedy here. Andy’s work contains so much greater meaning and significance when we see he served folks who were sorry to hear of his passing. If my cousin had been a cop on the streets of a violent city, one of several officers who have unceremoniously lost their lives in riots and uprising lately, I would be likely asking bitter questions like: ‘Why did he even bother joining the force? He could have quit and avoided working tirelessly to serve and protect people who hate him.’
Now don’t get me wrong: Andy’s passing frustrates me. But I know he was appreciated by people for the work he was doing in his home county. People felt safer because Andy did the job he did. I am sure his family has, over the past week, thought about the what-ifs, and it seems natural that they might have imagined him back in the office selling insurance again, as he did previous to returning to his law enforcement career as sheriff. But the truth is that we need cops like Andy. We need people who take their communities under their wings and work to keep the people safe.
I refuse to let the worst examples of the profession of law enforcement officer – the ones who end up committing inexcusable acts of racism or hatred for the world to witness – define cops everywhere. My cousin and friend is gone from this world, but I owe it to Andy to respect the cause he gave his life in preserving: the duty of a police officer to put the lives of others before his own interests, and indeed before even his own life and safety.
My prayers are with his wife and his children, with his mother, father and others closest to him. They are proud of him, but they are understandably devastated. I know them to be people of faith, folks who believe there’s a better world to come, and perhaps that will comfort them in the days to come.
Matt Pearl owns and operates newspapers in King City, Albany and Grant City.