Captain Jackey Long, a 25-year department veteran, died in early July shortly after being diagnosed with cancer. Cpl. Keith Slay, a 28-year department veteran died in a late July car crash while he was on duty. Capt. Vince Pasko, a 31-year police veteran, was found dead of what authorities have said was a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his house about two weeks ago.
“It has been one funeral after another,” police chaplain Roy Isasi told the Ledger-Enquirer of Columbus. Ricky Boren, chief of the 488-person department, said he’s never seen so many casualties within the force in such a short time span.
“I am looking at promoting a captain, two lieutenants, two sergeants and a few corporals in the next few weeks as a direct result of what happened this summer,” Boren said.
Slay was a narcotics task force member who was also the only person in Columbus public safety who was authorized to fly a helicopter. His aerial skills were used for everything from surveillance to tactical operations. The department is now using a pilot from a south Alabama Army post and temporary pilots from the Georgia State Patrol until they’re able to replace slay.
“Keith was in a smaller unit and you could see the pain in each of their eyes,” Isasi said. “I believe some of those officers came to realize how precious life is. All of us take life for granted until something like this happens.”
Long and Pasko were both employed as specialists in business operations. Long was one of the department’s experts on employee benefits, and also worked for a business improvement district coordinating security on weekends and for large events.
Pasko worked in support services, helped lead the department’s launch of a $2.5 million record-keeping program and was an expert on employee pensions.
“Right now, you have a huge scramble to fill three big voids,” said Columbus Mayor and public safety director Teresa Tomlinson. “It is tough enough to fill one.” Aside from the deaths of Slay, Pasko and Long, veteran detective Lynn Joiner retired recently because of medical concerns.
Some department officials say the losses have brought the force closer together.