James D. Paugh’s friends say he was never off duty.
When the Richmond County sheriff’s deputy was shot and killed a little after 1 a.m. Sunday, he was doing what his friends describe as typical behavior: trying to help. This time, however, he was met by an M4 assault rifle.
“It was a sad, senseless thing that happened,” said Jimmy Vowell, a retired Richmond County deputy and friend of Paugh’s for 25 years. “Eighty percent of guys coming home from work would have passed right by that vehicle and not stopped. Not him. He died doing what he did, which was trying to help someone.”
Vowell worked for the sheriff’s office from 1984 to 2004 and came to know Paugh through his work. They rode motorcycles together when they were off duty.
He described Paugh as a committed officer, one who was always on duty, even when he wasn’t.
“I don’t think you could find anybody who didn’t like him. He could defuse any situation with just his words,” Vowell said.
Paugh was divorced. His mother, brother, ex-wife and 13-year-old son all live in the area. He received the department’s Meritorious Service Award in May 1997.
Jerry Vest, who was a sheriff’s deputy from 1987 to 2001 and rode with Paugh in the motorcycle division from 1998 to 2000, said the deputy’s dedication impressed him.
“He was always a die-hard cop,” Vest said. “He will be missed by everyone from the department.”
Paugh would hang out on Mondays, the only day he didn’t have a special assignment, at Crazy Turks on Washington Road. Monday is the restaurant’s unofficial bike night, where a lot of local motorcycle enthusiasts congregate.
He also was into camping. Vowell would see Paugh at Petersburg Campground at Thurmond Lake with his family. He had recently finished restoring an old boat.
Sheriff’s Capt. Scott Gay described Paugh as a longtime motor officer who loved the sheriff’s office and riding motorcycles.
Gay said Paugh also loved to cook. He would cook for the deputies every once in a while, including fried turkey, which was a favorite.
Vowell described Paugh as a “guy’s guy.
“He would give you the shirt off his back. As a guy, if you have one choice to pick a friend, he would be it.”
Paugh was described as never being in a bad mood, and friends said he always loved what he was doing.
Vowell said law enforcement officers understand their lives are on the line every day, but it is hard to imagine losing someone so close to you.
Friends and co-workers have put up crosses and left flowers on Bobby Jones Expressway at Gordon Highway, where the shooting happened.
Some of Paugh’s motorcycle friends will gather at 6 tonight at Crazy Turks, 2910 Washington Road.