Ron Cox recalls his deputy sheriff days

Ron Cox recalls his deputy sheriff days

by Greg Olsen

Former lawman Ron Cox got interested in law enforcement by way of photography.

In 1966, while working as assistant manager at the Camera Shop on East State Street, Cox inquired about a job opening with the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department.

“I either asked Sheriff Dean Colwell or Sheriff Harold Wright about a job with the department,” said Cox, of Jacksonville. “The sheriff’s department often brought film to the Camera Shop to be developed, and because of my conversations with them, I got involved in law enforcement.”

So, in February 1967, Colwell came into the Camera Shop and asked Cox if he was still interested in working for the sheriff’s department.

“Colwell asked when I could start, and when I said about anytime, he said, ‘How about tonight at 8 o’clock?,’” Colwell recalled.

“That first night on duty, in February 1967, I met with Sheriff Colwell at the old jail (at the northeast corner of East College Avenue and South Main Street), and he gave me an old Colt .357 Magnum revolver, a deputy’s badge and the keys to a 1966 or 1967 AMC Ambassador patrol car, which was the sheriff’s department’s only patrol car at the time.”

Colwell then instructed Cox to fill the car with gas and to “drive around awhile and then come up to the jail and meet with Deputy Harry Timmons,” Cox recalled. Cox and Timmons then drove all over the county.

It sounds like an unbelievable story by today’s standards, but Cox was hired as a sheriff’s deputy without any formal training and without any prior knowledge of law enforcement procedures — and within a few days of being hired, Cox was officially sworn in as a sheriff’s deputy by then-Morgan County Clerk Louise Coop.

“Initially, I received on-the-job training,” Cox said. However, he recalled that within a few months, he received formal police and firearms training.

Cox’s second night as a sheriff’s deputy was more eventful than the first night. That’s when he answered a call to a fatal car crash on the Concord-Arenzville Road at the bridge over Indian Creek.

“That was the first of dozens of car crashes that I investigated,” he said.

In remembering the patrol cars, Cox said they were just plain vehicles with few features.

“All we had was one red light, a siren and a poor communication system,” he said. “Sometimes, depending on where we were in the county, we had no contact with the dispatcher. Also, the patrol cars had no safety screen between the front and back seat.”

Members of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department pose in front of the courthouse around 1970. In front (L-R) are Mrs. Wingler, Morgan County Sheriff’s Deputy Ron Cox, Morgan County Sheriff Harold Wright, Morgan County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Dave Dickerson and Betty Camerer. In back (L-R) are Morgan County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Orrin Sims, an unidentified deputy, dispatcher Merle Dewees, Morgan County Sheriff’s Deputy Jim Lewis, dispatcher Fred May and dispatcher Harvey Fearson.
Photo provided by Ron Cox

During the day, the patrol car was used only to transport prisoners to and from court and to a state prison.

“If there was a traffic accident, a domestic disturbance or any incident during the day, sheriff’s deputies had to use their own car to respond,” Cox said. He added that most of the time at night, two deputies rode together in the lone patrol car.

One former night patrol sheriff’s deputy that Cox has fond memories of is Harry Timmons.

“I rode patrol with Harry many times, and we went to some interesting bar fights and domestic disputes,” Cox recalled. “I remember going to a bar fight at Schneider’s on East State one night, and as soon as Harry and I entered the door, and I went first, a full beer bottle crashed against the wall above my head, soaking my hat and uniform with beer,” Cox said. “Harry then grabbed my shoulder and said, ‘Let’s get out of here.’”

In 1969, then-Morgan County Coroner John B. Martin appointed Cox deputy coroner while he continued working as a sheriff’s deputy. “As deputy coroner for five years, I was called to dozens of death scenes, including homicides, suicides and accidental deaths,” Cox said. In addition, he conducted inquests at the courthouse.

“Sometimes, when I was off duty as a sheriff’s deputy, I would be called to investigate a death,” he said. “And 50 years later, I can still vividly recall some gruesome scenes.”

In early 1974, Cox took a job as an investigator with the Office of the Inspector General with the Illinois Department of Public Aid, which is now the Illinois Department of Human Services. He retired as a supervisor with that department in 2001. He also did private investigations for 18 years.

Cox said he is proud of his work with the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department a half century ago.

“I really enjoyed working for the sheriff’s department and got along great with everybody,” he said. “And I really enjoyed helping the people of Morgan County.”

Photo provided by Ron Cox



Morgan County Sheriffs Deputy Ron Cox stands beside the countys only patrol car around 1970.

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