URBANA – Sixty-three years of institutional memory is exiting the Champaign County Sheriff's Office.
Hired with money from a federal grant designed to boost patrols in the county, Walter Wolfe of rural St. Joseph and Richard Quick of rural Urbana, formerly Rantoul, both started Jan. 6, 1975. The two are ending their law enforcement careers this month.
The last day for Quick, 53, a sergeant in patrol who is probably the longest-serving road deputy in the history of the sheriff's office, is Tuesday. Wolfe, 55, now chief deputy to Sheriff Dan Walsh, leaves June 17. The two were hired by Sheriff Everett Hedrick and have worked under Joe Brown, Dave Madigan and Walsh.
When they started, deputies were expected to patrol county roads, mind inmates at the old jail that sat across from the current sheriff's office at 204 E. Main St., and serve warrants. Those duties were parceled out over the years.
What did you do before the sheriff's office?
Wolfe: "I went to college for two years and decided that wasn't for me. Then I was in the Marines for two years. I stayed in the U.S. and got out in 1974. I joined to go to Vietnam and never got ordered."
Quick: "I drove a cab and was working construction when I got hired."
Describe what positions you've had through the years.
Wolfe: "I was in patrol about a year and a half. Probably around 1976 or 1977, Everett Hedrick put me and Orval Jarrett together serving warrants. (Fellow deputy and the late) Paul Pope nicknamed us the 'Brutal Brothers.'
"I went to investigations from there in late 1978 or early 1979. I worked general investigations until 1982 or '83, then with (the late) Capt. John Wilkinson at the Major Case unit."
The unit was a team of top detectives from several area police departments who worked exclusively on solving homicides.
"Capt. John was my mentor. He knew a whole lot more than people gave him credit for. I was a year or two on Major Case, then in 1985, Joe Brown promoted me to lieutenant and I went on midnights as a shift commander. In 1987, Brown put me in charge of the Interagency Task Force." That was another multidepartmental team of investigators working drug cases throughout the county.
"I was on ITF until 1990, and I came back to run investigations and was promoted to captain. In '95, when Roger Corray retired, I took over investigations and patrol. I was there until Dan Walsh came in three years ago. I've been chief deputy since."
Quick: "Primarily patrol. I served warrants awhile. I've been a sergeant since 1985. I never had the opportunity to go into investigations. I had a stint on midnights for 12 or 13 years straight. I enjoyed midnights. I've enjoyed patrol. That's the meat and potatoes of the job. We're dealing with the things as they're happening, making those split-second decisions. I still like getting in the car."
The most interesting part of the job?
Wolfe: "All of it has been interesting. What's helped me more than others is I've been able to change what I do every few years. There are a lot of guys who stay in patrol for years. It would be pretty hard. Investigations was probably the most interesting part of my career."
Quick: "Dealing with stuff as it happens. I feel I make good, rapid decisions about how to get things accomplished with our manpower. We cover over 1,000 square miles. We have a lot going on. Making the decisions, helping out fellow officers, getting citizens taken care of on complaints. Even though it's been this long, it's always been something different."
Is there a case that stands out in your memory?
Wolfe: "I worked a ton of murder cases in the last 30 years. It used to be we averaged three or four a year here and then at Major Case, there were more there. Helregel and Ehler were probably the two biggest profile cases we did, although Ehler was the tougher one. I had nightmares every night until we caught those guys."
In January 1994, Neil Helregel, 39, was found murdered in his rural Pesotum home. His wife, her lover and another man were convicted of planning and carrying out his fatal shooting. All three are serving prison terms for murder. In February 1996, Nathan Ehler, 16, of rural Thomasboro, was gunned down in his home when he returned from school and surprised a burglar. Two men were convicted of his murder and are serving prison sentences. A woman with them pleaded guilty to residential burglary for a lesser prison term.
Quick: "In the mid-to late 1980s, in Lincolnshire Fields (in Champaign) we had a suspicious car with Indiana plates. We solved a multistate residential burglary ring. They had maps and directions. We recovered a lot of stolen items in the car. That was a really big one."
In June 1995, Quick was forced to shoot a suicidal intoxicated man in Homer who had pointed a shotgun at a deputy despite repeated warnings to put the gun down. The man was killed.
"I think about it every once in a while. It's one of those things you train for and hope you never have to do but you have to make that decision in those few seconds, which has a lifetime of consequences."
Quick said years later he was getting his squad car oil changed when an employee at the oil change business asked him if he was involved in the shooting in Homer. Quick told him he was.
"He said, 'That was my dad.' Talk about being hit upside the head with a sledge hammer. I asked him how he and his mom and his brother and sister were getting along. They never held it against me. He said he wanted to talk to me and didn't know how to broach the subject. We were in that office by ourselves. We talked for quite a while. He told other (deputies) who came in later that he felt so much better after talking to me. I think of that day and what we had to do and that we survived. Seeing him put it in perspective. It helped me after talking to him. It was good."
What have you disliked the most?
Wolfe: "Investigating kid death or abuse of children cases. There was a period where I had three kids that died pretty close together, ages 6 months, 2 years and 9 years old. I was just getting ready to be a father (at the time). Everybody in investigations wants to work murder cases. In the beginning it's challenging and you enjoy it, but after a while it wears on you."
Quick: "A lot of people we deal with don't use common sense and expect us to solve problems for them and we can't because a lot of it is of a civil nature and we deal with what's criminal."
What has been most satisfying?
Wolfe: "A woman had left St. Joseph to go home to Philo. She had been to a party and was drinking and got in an accident. She called in on a cellphone. Her car was overturned and she didn't know where she was. We blew sirens in the area where we thought she was, and she couldn't hear them. I drove down U.S. 150 and we called METCAD. She was hitting a tower by Danville. It was 11 miles into Vermilion County where I saw a small tree broken off. I looked over the edge and 75 feet down was her car upside down. She was on the phone talking to METCAD."
Quick: "My favorite thing is catching burglars and putting them in prison. When I was a rookie deputy, I got burglarized by people down the street from me who saw me leave for work and when I came home. That's why I have a special place in my heart for burglars."
What has been the biggest change over the years?
Wolfe: "The technology, the computers. When Richard and I started we had tube radios and no portable radios. You had to turn the car on to have the radio warm up. When you got out you had to take care of yourself until somebody else came, and you didn't get a backup on every call. Communication is a whole lot better. Now there are computers in the cars."
Quick: "The technology. When I first started, we didn't even have portable radios. We didn't have moving radar, just old handhelds. We were on our own the first five years, with no portable radios. In good weather, your backup could be a long ways away. At times, you were there handling it by yourself. Now there are computers and cameras in the cars."
What are your plans in retirement?
Wolfe: "Fish and watch Westerns. I want to fish and hunt and do stuff I want to before I'm not able to. I'm not planning on having a full-time job. If I decide I need something to do, I have some rental property. I might buy a house and remodel it."
Wolfe and his wife Janet, have two children. Kyle, 23, is a lieutenant in the Marines. Daughter Erin is 20 and in college.
Quick: "I'm going to relax and travel."
Quick, whose wife of 27 years was killed in a traffic accident almost three years ago, has recently remarried and moved into wife Carol's home in rural Urbana. His son, Marshall, a firefighter in the Air Force Reserve, is buying Quick's house in Rantoul, and his daughter, Marlana Smith, the director of two day care facilities in Rantoul, is going to make him a grandfather for the first time in September.
"This year is going to be a great year. Things have worked out great."