In 2008, the citizens of Cochise County elected Larry A. Dever to his fourth term as Sheriff of this southeastern region of Arizona adjacent the Mexican border. (Cochise County, with a population of 132,000, shares an 83.5 mile border with Mexico. Bisbee is the county seat.) Larry Dever resided in St. David with his wife, a retired special education administrator. He had grown up in the town of 1,700, and had helped raise a family there. Three of the sheriff's six sons worked in Arizona law enforcement. Sheriff Dever began his law enforcement career in 1976 as a Cochise County deputy sheriff. In Cochise County, Sheriff Dever was well-liked and respected as a law enforcement officer and member of the community.
Because Cochise County had experienced crime and other social problems associated with the wave of illegal immigration from Mexico, Sheriff Dever, an authority of border enforcement, had testified before Congress, and had appeared numerous times on national television. In 2011 and 2012, Sheriff Dever spoke out as a strong proponent of Arizona's new immigration law (SB 1070), and publicly criticized the Obama administration for under-enforcing current immigration laws. Dever believed that the federal government had intentionally lost control of the U.S./Mexican border.
On September 18, 2012, less than two months before he would have been elected to his fifth term in office, Sheriff Dever was driving alone in his 2008 Chevrolet Silverado on a graveled U.S. Forest Service Road in the north central part of the state just west of Flagstaff. He was en route to White Horse Lake to participate in a two-day hunting and camping trip with his six sons.
On that day, at 6:30 in the evening, a motorist called 911 to report a single vehicle accident on U.S. Forest Road 109 in Coconino County two miles north of White Horse Lake. The witness said he had been following the extended-cab Silverado, but lost sight of the pickup when it rounded a curve. When the witness rounded the bend, he saw a cloud of dust, and the truck off the road sitting in an upright position. The caller told the 911 dispatcher that the man in the vehicle showed no signs of life.
Coconino County Sheriff's detective Jerome Moran, in his six-page accident report dated September 19, 2012, wrote: "The initial investigation indicates that [the] driver was traveling southbound on the dirt road when it lost control, veering off the lefthand side of the road then rolling over and crashing into the righthand (west) side. [The] driver was pronounced dead at the scene and later removed by the county medical examiner to the M.E. Office."
In his accident report, Detective Moran indicated that the Siverado's airbags had not deployed. The detective also noted that Sheriff Dever had not been wearing his shoulder and lap belts. The report contained no information regarding the presence of alcohol in the vehicle, or the odor of beer or liquor in the cab of the truck.
On October 1, 2012, a spokesperson for the Coconino Sheriff's Office reported that according to the Siverado's "black box," Sheriff Dever, at the time of the accident, had been traveling 62 MPH. Moreover, there had been containers of beer and liquor in the vehicle.
The Cochise County Sheriff's Office, on October 5, 2012, issued a statement that Sheriff Dever, at the time of his death, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.291 percent, three times the legal limit (0.08) in Arizona. (A company in Indianapolis, Indiana called AIT Laboratories, performed the toxicological urine analysis in this case.) In the prepared press release, the sheriff's office informed the public that Sheriff Dever had been under "stress and pressure" due to the recent death of his 86-year-old mother, and the upcoming deployment of one of his sons to Afghanistan.
Three days after the shocking revelation that Sheriff Larry Dever had been extremely intoxicated behind the wheel of his vehicle, the Coconino County Medical Examiner, Dr. A. L. Mosley, announced that the sheriff had died of "multiple injuries due to a pickup truck crash." Regarding the sheriff's manner of death, Dr. Mosley classified it as "accidental."
A review of Dr. Mosley's six-page autopsy report revealed that Sheriff Dever had a dislocated shoulder, a rib fracture, a puncture lung, and abrasions, contusions, and lacerations on his face, hand, arm, and neck. There was no indication in the report of severe bleeding, or major trauma to Dever's head, neck or torso. In summarizing Sheriff Dever's cause and manner of death, Dr. Mosley, in my view, was quite vague: "Based on the autopsy findings and investigative history, as available to me, it is my opinion that Larry Albert Dever, a 60-year-old Caucasian male, died as a result of multiple injuries due to a pickup truck crash. [His] manner of death is accidental." (From this I presume that Dr. Mosley was not the pathologist who actually performed the autopsy.)
"Multiple injuries?" Did Sheriff Dever die of a dislocated shoulder, a rib fracture, or a punctured lung? Surely the sheriff didn't die from his cuts, scrapes and bruises. He didn't bleed to death, or sustain brain damage, and he suffered no injury to his heart. How exactly, did this man die. Exactly what had killed him?
On October 10, 2012, a freelance writer named Dave Gibson wrote an online article for the Immigration Reform Examiner called, "Sheriff Larry Dever's Autopsy Results in More Questions than Answers." In his piece, Gibson wrote that a man of the sheriff's size--175 pounds--to achieve a blood-alcohol percentage of 0.291, would have, during a short period, consumed 12 beers or 12 shots of 80 proof liquor. According to a longtime friend of the sheriff's who was interviewed by Gibson, Dever was a light drinker. Gibson also pointed out that the sheriff's 4-wheel drive truck had light damage from the accident.
It seemed odd that a law enforcement officer who had been to the sites of dozens of fatal traffic accidents involving alcohol, would be speeding on a graveled road while extremely drunk and not wearing his seatbelt. It also didn't make much sense that Dever would be driven to such recklessness over the cancer death of his 86-year-old mother. If he had been so distraught over her death, why was he going on a camping/hunting trip with his sons?
Suicide in this case even made less sense. Had Sheriff Dever wanted to kill himself in a way that looked like a traffic accident why did he get drunk and unfasten his seatbelt?
Every year in the United States there are hundreds of sudden, violent deaths that, for one reason or another, are mislabeled in terms of their cause and manner of death. Perhaps Sheriff Dever's death was one of these cases. In any case, I think the circumstances surrounding this prominent law enforcement officer's sudden and poorly explained death deserved a closer look.