LOWNDES COUNTY, AL (WSFA) - Residents and school administrators offered their condolences to the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department as they cope with the loss of a well-liked and well-respected deputy who worked as a school resource officer.
Deputy Levy Pettway, 61, was killed in an accident while he was on duty Monday on Alabama 21, in Hayneville.
Troopers say the 2001 Ford Crown Victoria Pettway was driving left the roadway just before noon and struck several trees.
"Alabama State Troopers responded to a single vehicle crash on Alabama 21 in Lowndes County in the Hayneville city limits. It was a one vehicle crash involving a Lowndes County sheriff's deputy and unfortunately, that deputy did succumb to his injuries in the crash," said Sgt. Steve Jarrett with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.
Pettway had to be cut out of his vehicle. He was pronounced dead a short time later.
It is not clear why his patrol car went off the road or if he was responding to a call at the time of the crash.
"The vehicle did leave the roadway. Troopers are actively investigating the crash and we can't comment on anything at this time until the crash investigation is complete," Jarrett added.
Members of the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department were visibly upset at the scene of the accident. Pettway had been a reserve deputy in Lowndes County for more than 15 years, according to Sheriff John Williams. For the past three years, he worked as the School Resource Officer at The Calhoun School, a local high school.
"We lost one of our best deputies," said Chief Deputy Chris West.
A black wreath was placed on the front door of the department on Monday as a tribute to Pettway.
Nicholas Townsend, principal of The Calhoun School, said the entire student body and staff took the news of Pettway's death very hard.
"He was one of a kind. He can't be replaced. He was kind-hearted, genuine, and honestly loved the students. You can tell by their reactions that they care for him as well. Normally, a security guard or SRO is going to have a separate relationship from his students but he really took time with each student to talk with them each day," Townsend stated.
He pointed out the chair inside the school where Pettway would post up during certain periods of the school day to keep an eye on things, a strategic position that provided him with a clear view of the administration's office and the main hallway where most of the students' classes are, in between his constant patrols of the campus.
"That area there, we plan on setting up a little memorial for him tomorrow where students can leave notes, cards, and flowers," Townsend said.
School officials will be presenting several ideas to the superintendent for approval to create a more permanent memorial to Pettway at Calhoun School.
Law enforcement agencies from across the region expressed sympathy to the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department Monday on social media as news of the deadly crash spread.
Residents echoed that sentiment, offering prayers and support for the department.
Jim Smith knew Deputy Pettway. He heard police sirens while working out in his yard Monday morning and went out to run some errands, coming up on the wreckage.
When he learned that Pettway had been killed, Smith said: "He was a good guy, real helpful to the community. It's a sad loss for our county. I see him around town, occasionally up at the service station, and he'll be missed in the community. We'll miss him a lot."
Pettway was also a local minister. In November 2016, he became the pastor of Mount Ramah Primitive Baptist Church in Prattville. Before that, he served as one of the associate ministers at Beulah Primitive Baptist Church in Hope Hull.
State troopers continue to investigate the crash. Sheriff Williams spent Monday at the hospital with Pettway's family to provide support but stated that he appreciated Pettway for his dedication and years of service to Lowndes County.