Deputy shooting details emerge - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Deputy shooting details emerge

Deputy Stephen Rankin Deputy Stephen Rankin
Ben Westbrook (Source: Crisp Co. Sheriff) Ben Westbrook (Source: Crisp Co. Sheriff)

February 6, 2006

Crisp County -- There are new details about what led to the shooting of a Crisp County Sheriff's Deputy early Saturday morning. We now know the suspect wasn't speeding, or driving erratically.

Investigators say his radio was too loud and the Deputy was simply going to give him a warning. What happened soon after the Deputy pulled him over, almost cost the officer his life.

twenty-five-year-old deputy Stephen Rankin graduated from the Police Academy less than a year ago. Even though he doesn't have a lot of on-the-job experience, his training and instinct kicked in to full gear early Saturday morning, and that's what kept him alive.

There is one constant question in the back of the mind of every law enforcement officer. "You never know, from day to day, when you go to work what's going to happen that day, and if you're coming home or not," said GBI Agent in Charge Danny Jackson.

But chances are when Deputy Steven Rankin pulled over a man for playing the radio too loudly, he didn't think his life would soon be in danger. "Mr. Westbrook had driven by the area where the officer was sitting on the side of the road, and the officer could hear the loud music coming from Mr. Westbrook's vehicle and simply was going to stop him to tell him to turn it down," Jackson said.

But as Rankin walked toward the car, he was in for the shock of his life. Danny Jackson says, "The occupant of the vehicle, who was later identified as Ben Westbrook, fired one shot striking Deputy Rankin in the facial area."

But the suspect didn't stop there. Jackson says Westbrook tried to shoot Rankin again. When the gun jammed, he pistol-whipped Rankin and tried to steal the Deputy's service weapon. "The officer's lucky. Somebody's looking out for him, most definitely. No doubt about it."

Though wounded, Rankin was able to radio for help and get away from Westbrook- he even returned fire. Agent Jackson says Rankin certainly didn't act like a rookie and should be commended for his actions. "The instinct to survive, which all police officers talk about having, but he definitely had it that night, it was very obvious that he wanted to survive and he fought and his training came through," said the investigator.

Deputy Rankin's mother, Frances, told us today her son will be in a neck brace for two or three months due to a fractured vertebra, but he won't have to undergo surgery. Right now, they are waiting for a private room to open up so he can be moved out of the Intensive Care Unit at the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon. She says he is doing wonderfully.

The suspect, Ben Westbrook, served prison time for aggravated assault and had several violations for obstruction of an officer and eluding police. He is now charged with criminal attempt to commit murder, aggravated assault and other charges.

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