Deputy recalls final moments before sheriff died

By The Associated Press

NATCHEZ — Former George County Sheriff’s Deputy Tony Keel told jurors Wednesday about events leading up to his boss’ July 2010 death in testimony at the capital murder trial of Christopher Lee Baxter.

Keel said he stood near Sheriff Garry Welford just before he was run over by a vehicle another deputy was chasing. He said he told Welford that the vehicle they were trying to stop in a high-speed pursuit was quickly approaching.

The Sun Herald ( ) reports Keel remembered that a Jackson County deputy had been struck years before and told Welford to be extra careful.

“When I told him to be careful, I that was the last time I saw him (before he was hit),” said Keel, who became emotional on the stand.

Baxter, 26, of Lucedale, is accused of killing Welford, 62, who was run over while putting out spikes in an effort to stop Baxter’s truck during a high-speed chase. He is on trial in Natchez for capital murder and would face life in prison if convicted. He cannot face the death penalty because a judge has ruled he is intellectually disabled.

Keel said he heard the truck’s engine roaring as it approached and he drew his gun, hoping it might slow the driver down. When it didn’t, Keel jumped out of the way and found cover on a tree-lined slope as the truck passed. He said he felt the wind from the speeding truck as it passed.

Seconds later, he saw the wounded sheriff on the ground. Keel said he called for emergency personnel and helplessly waited.

“Looking at him, you knew it was too bad,” Keel said. He said he couldn’t tell who was driving the fleeing vehicle.

During earlier testimony, defense attorneys cross-examined the deputy who pursued the suspects in the chase.

Baxter’s lawyer, Tom Fortner, asked Deputy Bobby Daffin whether the chase was in violation of the sheriff’s policy on chases.

He also questioned whether the chase was necessary and whether there would have been an easier way to apprehend Baxter, who was caught at a George County trailer the day after Welford was killed.

“It didn’t turn out to be a good idea when it was all said and done with, did it, Deputy Daffin?” Fortner asked.

Daffin defended his actions, saying the chase did not violate any policies of the sheriff’s office and that he believed the driver, suspect Brandy Williams, was being reckless to the point that the public’s safety was in danger.

Daffin said he backed off at points when he believed the chase was becoming too dangerous. He also acknowledged he never saw Baxter during the pursuit but had reason to believe he was inside the truck Williams was driving. Daffin said he saw an arm on the passenger side.

Williams, 20, also of Lucedale, faces a capital murder trial Aug. 27 in Lafayette County.

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