POINT PLEASANT — “I knew when he left, he wouldn’t be coming back.”
Those were the words of Lisa Perry, daughter of former Mason County Sheriff Elvin E. “Pete” Wedge who died as a result of injuries he sustained in the jail explosion which occurred on March 2, 1976.
Perry recalled being 15 years old when her dad received the word that a man carrying dynamite had made his way into the jail and insisted on being permitted to see his wife who was being held there. Perry recalled feeling a premonition that this was the last time she’d see her father as he left home on that final call.
Perry, along with Kelli Sayre who also lost her father, Deputy Kenneth “Kenny” Love, in the explosion, were two of several honored guests at Wednesday’s Peace Officers Memorial Day event held by the Mason County Sheriff’s Department and supported by fellow Mason County law enforcement agencies - all of which showed their respect by personnel participating in the ceremony in Class A uniforms.
Mason County Sheriff Greg Powers spoke about that tragic night back in 1976 and how the actions of law enforcement personnel saved lives by evacuating prisoners to safety. He spoke about those who were killed and those who were injured but survived the blast, telling the audience something about the men to make them more than a name on a sheet of paper.
There was Bruce Wallace, a West Virginia State Trooper who lost a leg which ended his career in law enforcement. Lloyd Akers, another state trooper, who retired from law enforcement as a result of his injuries. There was Tom Belcher, of the Point Pleasant Police Department who was an officer and afterwards worked as a dispatcher, Richard Dyer, a sheriff’s deputy who was injured and Mike Smith, a state trooper who was also injured and was able to return to his duties full time and retired as a trooper.
Then, Powers talked about those who paid the ultimate price. When it came to Love, Powers said the blast killed him instantly and he was known as one of the “finest officers in the sheriff’s department.” Love left behind wife Judy and children Kelli and Billy.
When it came to Wedge, Powers said his peers described him as being “one of us.” He was a happy man who played guitar and snapped his fingers to the radio to songs he liked. He left behind wife Frances, children Lisa and Richard and grandson Seth.
Jailer Ernest R. Hesson died seven days after the jail explosion with Powers saying he never regained consciousness. Hesson was also a former sheriff in Mason County in the 1940’s, Powers noted.
Powers said these three men were all husbands, fathers and police officers who all loved their families and the communities they swore to protect, and, “the community loved them.”
Powers asked those gathered to stop by the memorial to the men in front of the Mason County Courthouse and the recently updated area surrounding it. The area has been updated with donations and volunteer labor and will be maintained by the Mason County Deputy Sheriff’s Association.
“Stop by the memorial, sit on the bench and say a prayer for these brave men who gave their lives in service of their community,” Powers said.
Then, members of the sheriff’s department performed a moving flag presentation ceremony before presenting the flags to Lisa Perry and Kelli Sayre.
Later, Lisa and Kelli placed a memorial wreath in front of the memorial and it’s updated space. Kelli recalled being seven years old when she awoke to her grandparents telling her the news that something bad had happened to her dad Kenny and he wouldn’t be coming home. Kelli said to have the memorial updated and the men remembered at the ceremony was a very nice tribute.
Lisa said she hoped people remembered her dad as a likable man who put everybody before himself.
“I’m so proud to have had him as a father,” Lisa said, saying all three men were there on Wednesday in spirit.
Also participating in Wednesday’s service were Pastor Rick Towe, Pastor Jonathon Pinson, Pastor Bob Patterson, Mason County Prosecuting Attorney Craig Tatterson and Brooke Price who sang the National Anthem.