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John Ward retires from KSP

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By Sarah Bennett, Landmark News Service

Kentucky State Police Capt. William John Ward began his public safety career as a volunteer at Upton Fire Department. Just a teenager, he rode his bike to the department to assist on fire runs.

Elizabethtown Fire Chief Mike Hulsey, who was a state fire instructor at the time, remembers teaching the teenage Ward.

“He was dedicated to helping people,” Hulsey said.

Ward, now 51, retires at the end of the month after 28 years with KSP, the last nine of which have been spent as commander of Post 4 in Elizabethtown.

A graduate of East Hardin High School and Eastern Kentucky University, Ward served two years at Vine Grove Police Department before joining the state police.

His diverse career at KSP began in 1986 as a trooper at Post 3 in Bowling Green. Three years later, he began a five-year stint as a trooper at Post 4. It was not until he was appointed post commander in 2004 that he returned to Elizabethtown, where he’s spent half his career with KSP.

“As far as my positions on the state police, this has been my most rewarding job,” said Ward, who lives in Elizabethtown with his wife, Gail, and daughter, Macy, 6. “I’ve been able to come back and serve my community that I grew up in.”

Ward’s near decade-long tenure as Post 4 commander saw the conclusion of the high-profile murder case against Sgt. Brent Burke. Charged in the Sept. 11, 2007, shooting deaths of his estranged wife Tracey Burke and her former mother-in-law Karen Comer in Rineyville, Burke was convicted in military court last May after four civilian trials failed to reach a verdict.

During those trials, defense attorneys pointed to several errors in KSP’s investigation.

On Wednesday, Ward said mistakes were made and lessons were learned in the Burke case. However, he added detectives did well and a conviction ultimately was reached using their evidence.

“The bottom line is I have no doubt in my mind that Brent Burke committed those crimes,” he said. “I think justice was served. Were there lessons learned from the Brent Burke case? Absolutely.”

“In my opinion, the few things that could have been done differently had no bearing on the outcome,” Ward added. “Any time you have a circumstantial case, that’s very, very hard to prove.”

According to KSP Maj. Mike Crawford in Frankfort, the Post 4 commander has 12 letters of commendation in his file, a Citation for Meritorious Service and a V for Valor device for his role in a 2009 standoff with an armed suspect.

During that standoff, Ward responded to the scene with troopers, which KSP Sgt. Courtney Longacre said is a leadership quality the captain has displayed since his first supervisor role as a field sergeant at Post 13 in Hazard.

Longacre was a rookie trooper, he said, serving under Ward in 1994 at the Hazard post. The first time he met Ward was at the scene of a domestic dispute at a trailer in Perry County where shots had been fired.

According to Longacre, when he and other troopers arrived on scene, they didn’t know what to expect and believed those involved were inside the trailer.

As they prepared to enter the residence, Ward pulled up to the scene. Longacre was about to enter the trailer first, but the new sergeant, whom he never had met, stopped him.

“He was like, ‘Hold on there,’” Longacre recalled. “‘You’re not going in first. I’m going in first.’”

“From then on, I had a great deal of respect for him,” he added.

Though he leaves Post 4 with many accomplishments to look back on, Ward said he also exits thinking about Bardstown Police Officer Jason Ellis, who was shot dead May 25. No one has been arrested in the officer’s death.

“That’s very troubling to me,” Ward said. “I felt as though I want somebody in jail immediately for committing that act. We don’t have that.”

Ward also leaves office with an open investigation involving two former Post 4 troopers, Jerry Clanton and Stratford Young.

Though KSP has not commented on the nature of the case, it has been reported a man accused the former troopers as well as former officers from Brandenburg Police Department and Breckinridge County Sheriff’s Office of having an “inappropriate relationship” with his 15-year-old daughter.

Ward said he leaves office with a clear conscience as Post 4 acted quickly and diligently from the moment the first complaint was reported.

“That’s something that’s still under investigation,” Ward said. “I’m not going to comment, but did it concern me? Did it upset me? Yes, but we’re still in the business of dealing with people.

“I love this agency that I’ve spent 28 years as a member of. I don’t like seeing things that shed a negative light on the state police. That did. That upsets me. I do feel that we did everything in our power to take care of business.”

Crawford, who graduated from KSP’s academy with Ward in 1986, said the state police will miss the captain’s experience, maturity and knowledge. Out of the state’s 16 post commanders, he said Ward is “by far the most senior commander we have.”

“It is a very regrettable congratulations I offer to him,” Crawford said.

Though Ward’s retiring, he said he’s not finished his career in public safety just yet. He intends to run for Hardin County Sheriff in 2014 as a Democrat.

“I very much enjoy serving my community and I want to continue to serve it,” he said.