End of Watch: The Death of Okaloosa County Sheriff John Summerlin

Sheriff John Summerlin

Two important events occurred when John was 28 years old. First, in 1915, a new county was formed from Santa Rosa and Walton counties. Okaloosa County was created. Further, Governor Trammell appointed the first sheriff of the county – B. H. Sutton. John thought that the top lawman in the new county wasn’t such a bad position.

The second event was his marriage in 1916. Mabel Eleanor Campbell was one of the Campbell girls, maybe the prettiest. She was the 22-years-old brunette daughter of the well-respected Angus Campbell. Both events changed his life.

Okaloosa County, 1919

Still living in Laurel Hill, the couple finished their house and moved in. They set to make a living. In 1920, the first election for county sheriff finally arrived. John had been thinking about it for a while. Should he throw his hat in the ring? Yes. He entered the race and won!

Well-liked and well-respected, John took office. It was a lot of responsibility, but it was worth it. He would work hard to prove that the people’s trust in him was not for naught.

January 21, 1921:

It had only been about two weeks since Sheriff Summerlin took office, Mr. Barrow, an employee of the state mental hospital, arrived by train to Crestview, the county seat. He contacted Sheriff Summerlin and explained that he was tasked with picking up a patient and taking him to the hospital. He requested that the sheriff go with him. Mr. Barrow, Mr. Bishop and the sheriff piled into the sheriff’s Model-T and went to the man’s house where they picked him up without incident.

On the way back to the train station, the Model-T got stuck on the railroad track about two miles outside of town. An oncoming train was unable to stop, plowing into the car and killing the sheriff instantly. The others died soon afterwards.

 The following afternoon, the funeral took place in Clary Cemetery in Laurel Hill. The small cemetery was overrun by what was said to be “the largest crowd of relatives and friends that ever attended a funeral in this county[1].”

[1] The Florala News, January 27, 1921, page 4. https://www.newspapers.com/image/308410113/?terms=%22John%20Summerlin%22&match=1. Acquired 12/21/2022

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