(Posted March 6, 2019)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
After 37 years with the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff James P. Sabin is retiring on March 15 at 7:40 p.m.
He chose March 15 for both practical and personal reasons. He wants to retire at a time when the weather is breaking so he can jump right into house projects and camping. He also wants to honor a date that has stuck with him for 28 years.
“The most intense case I ever had to investigate was the homicide of Jessica Lyn Keen, a 15-year-old girl who was found in Foster Chapel Cemetery in 1991,” said Sabin.
Keen’s body was discovered in the West Jefferson cemetery on March 17. The investigation determined that she had been killed on March 15.
Seventeen years later, after resubmitting the evidence, the Sheriff’s Office received a DNA hit. The suspect was located in North Carolina. He was extradited to Ohio, where he was found guilty of Keen’s murder.
“It was a horrific homicide. It was always on my mind,” Sabin said.
Sabin’s reason for choosing 7:40 p.m. as the specific time he wants to retire is a lighter one. It’s the time the sun will set in Madison County on March 15. In old Western movies, sheriffs were always saying, “Be out of town by sundown.”
“So, it’s my intention to be out of town by sundown,” Sabin said, adding that other sheriffs he knows said they plan to steal this clever exit when they retire.
Sabin’s first day on the job was Aug. 19, 1981. He had spent a couple of years as an auxiliary police officer in West Jefferson before becoming a dispatcher/jailor with the Sheriff’s Office. He was paid $5 an hour.
“I walked in the doors looking for a job and didn’t find one. What I found was a career, a rewarding career,” Sabin said.
From dispatcher/jailor, he moved on to patrol duty at a time when the department had just one deputy on the road at a time, patrolling the county’s 467 square miles.
In 1986, Sabin was called in to help the department’s one investigator, Bob Anderson, work a drug-related homicide case. He ended up staying with the detective bureau–working his way through the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant and chief deputy–until 2005 when he took office as sheriff.
“When you are chosen through an election by the people you serve directly and they entrust you with their safety and their family’s safety, it is quite humbling,” he said.
From homicides to thefts, Sabin said every type of case he has helped to solve has come with the reward of knowing he has helped someone or gotten a bad person off the streets.
As an investigator, he put himself in the victim’s shoes and did whatever he could to solve the crime.
“I always tried to go one step farther and try to find out not only who did it, but why,” Sabin added. As an example, he said people who commit theft do so for a variety of reasons, some related to addiction, some to simple survival.
“I also learned early on that law enforcement is only a small part of the duties. It’s really about serving the public,” he said.
That means checking on people’s homes when they are on vacation, checking businesses at night, changing tires.
“Anything you could do to assist someone, you did, and that’s what we continue to do,” he said.
As for why he stayed with the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, Sabin said, “I was never inclined to go to another agency. Madison County is where I wanted to be and the people I wanted to serve.”
Madison County Prosecutor Stephen J. Pronai backs up that statement.
“We’re going to miss him because he cares about this county a lot, and I know he worries about this county a lot. He has spent the last 30-plus years caring for it. That’s dedication you don’t see just anywhere,” said Pronai, who has worked with Sabin since 1985 when he was assistant prosecutor and Sabin was an investigator.
Pronai has always been impressed by Sabin’s investigative abilities. He pointed to the Jessica Lyn Keen case as a prime example. He accompanied Sabin to the crime scene and watched as Sabin pieced together what happened from clues that included a mud stain on the fence, a piece of duct tape, and a knee print behind a tombstone.
“His inductive and deductive reasoning in solving crimes is 10-plus. He was an unbelievable investigator,” Pronai said.
Pronai also praised Sabin for taking the Sheriff’s Office to a new level over the past 10 to 12 years by expanding the detective bureau, putting more deputies on the road, and fine tuning the financials to do more with the least amount of money he can.
“He has built the Sheriff’s Office into a first-class operation,” Pronai said.
Sabin said he is thankful for the working relationships and the friendships he has enjoyed during his time with the Sheriff’s Office.
“There are too many to name who contributed to my success. I am especially thankful for my staff and deputies here. They have represented me throughout the county on a daily basis and they do an exceptionally good job at that,” he said.
He also thanked his wife, Tina. The two met when Sabin’s predecessor, Steve Saltsman, hired Tina as a dispatcher. She plans to continue working for another couple of years as an administrative assistant at the Sheriff’s Office.
Sabin said the transition to retirement will be a big one.
“The Sheriff’s Office has been a huge part of my life… I loved every minute of it, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said.
Two open houses are planned to celebrate Sheriff James P. Sabin’s retirement. Both are open to the public.
March 15: 1-4 p.m. in the Madison County Common Pleas Courtroom, 1 N. Main St., London
March 22: 6-10 p.m. at the Red Brick Tavern, 1700 Cumberland St., London