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Trooper had been
on job less than year

photo
A FHP trooper stands near the covered body of Trooper James B. Crooks, who was killed by Carr during Tuesday's pursuit. [Times photo: John Pendygraft]

 

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD and GEOFF DOUGHERTY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 20, 1998


James B. Crooks, a 23-year-old trooper who had been with the Florida Highway Patrol less than a year, was gunned down Tuesday afternoon on the Interstate 75 exit ramp at State Road 54 in Pasco County.

photo
Rookie FHP trooper James Crooks was the son of a cattle farmer who fought hard to overcome obstacles to join the force. [AP Florida photo]
With details about the killing still sketchy, however, it was unclear whether his inexperience worked against him when he tried to apprehend 30-year-old Hank Earl Carr, who authorities say also killed two Tampa police detectives in a shooting rampage that spanned three counties.

"Apparently this guy (Carr) was a wild man," said highway patrol Maj. Ken Howes. "He'd already killed two veteran Tampa police detectives. So whether it was a rookie or a seasoned trooper, who knows if anything could have been done differently at this point."

Crooks, who was known as Brad, grew up on his family's cattle farm in rural Clewiston in South Florida. He was active in the 4-H Club and graduated from Clewiston High School.

A family friend said Crooks was happy to be assigned to Pasco County after he became a trooper and feared an assignment in Miami because of its danger.

• Detective hailed as hero, professional, friend

• Among police, 'the world is paralyzed; everybody is crying'

• Trooper had been on job less than year

• Detective Bell just weeks away from 'dull' job

• Carr lived as he died: in violence

• Made-for-TV tragedy unfolded too quickly for live reports

• Caseworkers received allegations of abuse

• Handcuff procedures questioned

Trooper Francis Vega, who roomed with Crooks at the academy and is stationed in South Florida, said his friend's death underscores the risk of police work.

"I don't think he made a mistake or did something wrong," Vega said. "It's just one of the things that happens. It's a sad thing that happens to the best of us."

Crooks' time at the academy wasn't easy, Vega said. As an overweight recruit, Crooks endured the scorn of FHP's drill instructors. But his persistence got him through, Vega said.

"People were on him constantly. But he said he was going to do it, and he went ahead and did it," Vega said.

Crooks' life ended just seven months after his crowning achievement -- graduation from the academy. He encountered a pickup truck driven by Carr, who had already shot two Tampa detectives and had fled north on I-75, authorities said.

It's unclear exactly what transpired between Crooks and Carr, but it ended with a young trooper's death.

Sgt. Bill Martinez said Crooks was based in Land O'Lakes and lived in Tampa. He was engaged to be married. Crooks is survived by his parents, Michael and Vivian Crooks of Clewiston.

A woman who answered the parents' phone Tuesday night declined comment.

Crooks is the 37th Florida Highway Patrol trooper slain in the line of duty since 1939, and the 17th to die by gunfire, Howes said.

"Every trooper in the state went through the same academy," Howes said, "so when we lose one of our own troopers, everyone hurts."

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