One of Cullman County's finest has fallen.
Lt. Jimmy Arrington, a 27-year veteran of the Cullman County Sheriff's Office, died Tuesday morning at Huntsville Hospital less than a week after being diagnosed with acute leukemia.
Arrington, 58, director of the Sheriff's Office's work release program, also served as a patrolman, patrol supervisor, investigator and west side district chief during his years with the department.
His death Tuesday shocked co-workers, fellow officers and those in the community who knew and respected him as a dedicated officer and friend.
"When I started work as a reserve officer I rode with Jimmy a lot. It's always a big deal for a young officer when they get to ride along with someone of Jimmy's experience, personality and character," said Sheriff Tyler Roden. "He was a father-figure to many young officers and to a lot of the inmates he worked with on a daily basis as head of our work release program at the detention center. He did a wonderful job with that program, building it up to one of the model programs in the state, but then that's the way Jimmy was. Whatever job you gave him to do, you knew he was going to put everything he had into it and go beyond what was expected of him."
Roden said Tuesday's news of his passing hit the department, courthouse employees and the public hard.
"Everyone is just sort of going through the motions, doing their jobs as best they can because they know that's what Jimmy would have wanted, but it's hard," Roden said. "Jimmy was the deputy every young officer wanted to be. A lot of our deputies are better officers today for having known Jimmy Arrington. He left us with a lot of good memories."
Always a prime example of good health, Arrington experienced a heart attack last year which sidelined him for a couple of months.
He quickly rebounded however and only just recently began to exhibit signs of fatigue, according to his co-workers.
"About a week ago he started having chest pains and his wife Carolyn carried him to the emergency room at Woodland (Medical Center). The initial diagnosis was that he has suffered a mile heart attack. They stabilized him and transported him to Huntsville Hospital. After a battery of tests there it was confirmed that he had acute leukemia. His blood count was so low we were told they had to give him nine units of blood to get him stable," said Lt. Phillip Lambert, chief investigator with the Sheriff's Office. "I talked to him Saturday on the phone and he sounded in such good spirits. He said the doctors were telling him there was an 80 percent chance he would fully recover."
Lambert said the physicians made the decision to attack Arrington's leukemia aggressively and scheduled his first chemotherapy treatment for Monday.
"The information we have is sketchy at best, but what we were told was that he came through his treatment fine, but some time during the early morning hours Tuesday a nurse went into his room to check on him and he was unresponsive," Lambert said. "Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful."
Lambert said he and Arrington went to school together as children and then later worked together at the Sheriff's Office.
"He was one of the best. You can't replace someone like Jimmy Arrington," Lambert said.
Lt. David Sandlin and Arrington worked together for nearly 28 years.
"We hit it off right from the start. We rode horses a lot together and he truly loved horses. In fact, he was instrumental in organizing the annual Sheriff's Rodeo," Sandlin said. "It just doesn't seem real that he's gone. He believed so much in living life to the fullest. He was an outstanding law enforcement officer and an even better friend."
Sandlin said Arrington never took on any responsibility half-heartedly and gave his current position as director of the county's work release program as an example.
"I had one inmate comment to me that Jimmy was the nicest, meanest guy he'd ever met, and that summed Jimmy up pretty well," Sandlin said. "Because of his job Jimmy could portray a gruff exterior, but if you needed help of any kind he'd do anything for you."
Larry "Crash" Waldrop, a former investigator with the Sheriff's Office, said he'll always remember Arrington as a close friend "and one of the finest officers it was ever my privilege to serve with."
"Jimmy was such a good guy. We worked together in the early 1970s. He was just a pleasure to be around and he will leave a big hole at the Sheriff's Office," Waldrop said. "You know he was in charge of the work release program at the detention center, but I bet you didn't know that when he got sick last week a number of the inmates at the jail prepared him a get well card, and anybody who could get that kind of response from a group of inmates he's in charge of tells you what kind of person Jimmy Arrington was."
Lt. Brian Buegler, detention center warden and a close personal friend of Arrington's for 33 years, said he was well respected by his fellow officers, those in the community and even the inmates he was in charge of at the detention center.
As news of Arrington's death spread Tuesday, Buegler said an inmate came to him and pointed out that the detention center has a flag pole, but no flag.
"He suggested that this would be a good occasion to raise a flag. We got in touch with a chaplain and we gathered around the flag pole and had prayer and then an inmate raised the flag to half staff," Buegler said. "Jimmy was a genuine person and a humanitarian in the way he treated people. He treated the inmates fair and firm and they respected him for it."
Chief Deputy Tony Quick said it was his pleasure to serve all of his 22 years with Jimmy.
"To me it's a sad day not only for law enforcement, but for the community as a whole," Quick said. "Not only was Jimmy one of the most dependable employees we had at the Sheriff's Office, he was also a dependable friend and those are so hard to come by today."
District Court Judge Kim Chaney worked with Arrington when both were reserve officers in the 1970s.
"We rode a lot together back in those days," Chaney said.
"The thing I think I'll remember most about Jimmy is that if you were about to get into a tough situation he's one of the ones you wanted with you," Chaney said. "He wasn't a social worker or a diplomat. Jimmy was an old-school officer with a wonderful understanding of people. He was also a man of integrity. If Jimmy Arrington told you something, that was the way it was going to be. We'll all miss him."
Cullman Heritage Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
One of Cullman County's finest has fallen.