DARKE COUNTY — Darke County Sheriff Toby L. Spencer is seeking re-election for his second term in public office.
“Absolutely, I am seeking re-election,” he said. “I never said I wasn’t going to run. I will be 65 in September [the 23rd to be exact]. I’m not ready to retire.”
Spencer believes he is the only one one board with the department who has served longest time of anybody full-time presently.
“I think I’m getting to be one of the oldest employees in the county seniority-wise but not age-wise,” said Spencer, who joined the sheriff’s department 43 years ago. “I have a great staff. We just work so well hand-in-hand.”
He has 69 employees, which includes 18 road deputies with one off on disability; five detectives; one secretary; 21 corrections officers; three cooks; eight full-time dispatchers and one part-time; one who works with court services; one in records; an accounts payable person, a part-timer who works with the Carry Conceal Weapon program; one who is in charge of the property room; an IT worker, the 9-1-1 coordinator; and Chief Deputy Mark Whittaker.
Spencer joined the sheriff’s department in 1974 as a road deputy and did that until 1977 when he was promoted to the detective section and subsequently
“I did that until the election when Mike Vance, Ron VanVickle and Robert Sullenbarger ran for sheriff and Sullenbarger won,” he said. “I was named sergeant of detective for a few years. About l983 or ‘84 I was promoted to lieutenant and moved out on the road.”
Then, he sensed a career change was needed.
“I didn’t like what was going on at the sheriff’s office at the time and didn’t think we were dedicating enough to our citizens,” Spencer said. “When I ran for sheriff, it was more to get us back into criminal investigations.”
So, he threw his hat into the ring and won that election, and it’s the only time until this year that he has had any opposition at the polls.
“We have no unsolved homicides under my tenure,” he said. “We have tried to work on the cold cases, but they’re so cold.”
His department, he said, helps anybody who needs them.
His most memorable case, he said, is the murder case of Lynn Topp in the northern Darke County area.
“It brings back bad memories and still rips my heart out,” he said.
If he remembers correctly, it took his office two weeks to find her and another two weeks to locate the perpetrator, who took his own life.
“And, there are so many cases I’ve worked that brought joy to families,” he said. “Like, the homicide on Grubbs-Rex Road and the Kenny Koon and Wes Rogers’ cases. The Koon case was the most brutal.”
He himself was in some unsafe situations while working on cases.
“In Braffettsville, a guy from Texas was coming at me in a vehicle and I took the ditch and he then came at me in reverse,” the sheriff recalled. “I got out of the car, had a shotgun and shot, and the chase was back on. It was a cold, snowy day south of New Madison near the Fish and Game Club on New Garden Road. He drove back into the woods and Wayne County brought a plane up. “
Spencer said he got out of his cruiser, and walked back into the woods. Finally, he saw the suspect vehicle which he said had plowed into a tree.
“I thought I’d killed him but when I approached the vehicle, the driver was gone.”
“Then, some guys came into the woods and they found him in a house,” he said.
Another incident the sheriff recalled was when he assisted on backup call in Greenville and went after a man in a second- floor apartment.
“There was an outdoor staircase and I made the first flight and turned to get up another flight of stairs when I saw the guy was standing in the doorway with his gun aimed at me,” Spencer said. “I was told not to shoot, and then someone finally tackled him from the inside.”
What are his plans if he gets re-elected sheriff?
“Not really anything, but there are so many financial issues,” Spencer responded. “We are trying to get things in working order. The commissioners have granted us $110,000 to finally get our in-house computer system up. We have been having computers problems for a couple of years with 9-1-1 going down. It was critical the commissioners approved this. Years ago, we piecemealed it, but to the point where we now have to do it all.”
He was quick to point out that the sheriff’s department is open 24/7, 365 days a year.
“We have five times more the resources than anybody else [in the county],” he said. “It takes that much, and I don’t like to be a burden on the taxpayers. We try to get by with what we can. Now, we are down to our last circuit board…and if that fails….. Our pneumatic doors which work off air pressure, need fixed and nobody around here works on them. It’s a costly thing. We’ll probably have to go to electric doors.”
He said, however, that drugs is Darke County’s biggest problem now.
“The drug problems we have lead to other issues,” he said. “Heroin is a problem and meth comes and goes, and now there are some other drugs making an impact right now. There are overdosing and death of the young people. We want to try and make an impact, but it [the drug] comes from many places. We hit it hard and try to do our darnedest to stay on top of it. It’s a systemic problem, not just ours.”
According to Spencer, there are two-full time officers and a third person who helps fill in whenever he/she can to work on this drug issue.
“I don’t have enough staff to investigate the drugs cases,” the sheriff said.
Spencer was born and raised in Darke County, having grown up in Hollansburg. Now a resident of New Madison, he is the son of Wyoneda Stephens of Hollansburg and the late Lowell Eugene Spencer, who died in 1954.
“My mom is 91 years old and is still driving,” said the sheriff, whose stepfather Marion Stephens died in the early 1970s
Spencer has three siblings, including Ginger Brubaker of Greenville. Two others, Cindy Winterrowd and Todd Stephens are deceased.
He married Becky Napier, who died of cancer nine years ago on Dec. 31, and has her two sons, Nathan and Aaron Sebring, and their sons, Justin and Chase Spencer, as well as three grandchildren.
The death of his wife took a toll on him.
“I still think about her every day,” he said. “We knew she was sick the last five years of her life, but we got to say and do things people don’t get to do before she died.”
Spencer served with the U.S. Army from 1971-73 and is a member of the New Madison American Legion.
He enjoys riding his Harley-Davidson, golfing and photography.
“I won’t say I play golf, but I go to the golf course,” he quipped. “It’s peaceful. I get out with a bunch of good people.”
He also enjoys being with his family; going to ballgames and cooking out.
Spencer has only worked under two sheriffs, Erwin and Sullenbarger.
“Jim [Erwin] was the best damn sheriff in the state of Ohio as far as I’m concerned,” Spencer said. “I try to model my career after him.”