After 41 years with the Hinesville Police Department — 40 of those with the detective unit — Maj. Thomas E. Cribbs decided it was time to put down his gun and badge.
Cribbs’ career was celebrated during a retirement ceremony held Thursday afternoon at the Hinesville Police Department.
The outpouring of support and respect was apparent as the room was filled to capacity with family members, law-enforcement personnel from several agencies, attorneys, judges and City Council representatives.
Cribbs’ career began in Bryan County, where he served as a chief deputy.
“I had done some investigative work, which made me qualified for the detective unit at HPD,” he said. “They needed a second detective, so they put me in there.”
Cribbs said his most compelling case was a murder. In 2001, Ludowici police Officer Calvin Williams was convicted and sentenced to four life terms for the July 2000 stabbing deaths of Lisa Bymon, whom Williams — a married man with children of his own — had been dating, Bymon’s friend Ponda Davis and Bymon’s two children, ages 6 and 7. News media reports at the time described the scene, an apartment on Olive Street in Hinesville, as one of the bloodiest and most horrific in Georgia history.
“A few years ago, we had a police officer from a neighboring city kill four people at one time here in Hinesville,” he explained. “That has been the most rewarding case that I’ve ever worked. Myself and several of the police and detectives that are here now pieced that case together. It was probably one of the better cases that I think we’ve ever done.”
He agreed Thursday with accounts describing just how brutal the scene was.
Cribbs said there have been lighter moments in his career. Humorous cases where the suspects have pretty much left a trail to their capture.
HPD Officer Tracey Howard spoke fondly of the man he also called “Dad” and with whom he has worked for 25 years.
Howard recalled when the HPD officers used revolvers instead of the handguns they use now. He said Cribbs was a sharpshooter, a shorter version of John Wayne who could hit every target even when making trick shots using mirrors.
Liberty County Sheriff Steve Sikes said the first advice of his father, former sheriff Bobby Sikes, gave him as the new sheriff years ago was to reach out to Cribbs because the detective had more extensive knowledge of the law and law enforcement in the county than most.
“I made a special effort to reach out to him,” Steve Sikes said. “He took me under his wing. ... I admire the man. ... He has my badge in his pocket because I know that man has had my back at all times, and I thank God for knowing him.”
Former Hinesville mayor Jim Thomas said he has known Cribbs for about 10 years.
“He is one of the most professional police officers that I know,” Thomas said. “We in this community are very lucky to have people of this caliber live and serve our community. When it comes to ‘protect and serve,’ that is what he did.”
Charles Sikes, a former GBI special agent in charge from Region 5 in Statesboro, said Cribbs was an innovator, always staying on top of new technology.
“Thomas kept up with changing times,” Sikes said. “... He always kept up with movements in law enforcement. ... When video cameras were just coming into existence, Thomas was one of the pioneers in utilizing video, and it saved us in a major investigation of this area.”
Sikes added that Cribbs’ videotaping of a homicide crime scene helped preserve the look of the crime area before items were moved or taken as evidence. That preserved the scene on video helped prosecutors solidify the conviction.
Cribbs said he was destined to be in law enforcement.
“When I was a kid and ever since I can remember, ... the guy who lived next door to me moved and became the police chief of Pembroke. … He left from there and went to Pooler police,” Cribbs said. “The guy that moved into the house and who I spent a lot of time with, Noah Dixon, he was the chief of police in Collins, Georgia. ... I’ve come up with cops next door to me all my life. At an early age, I started carrying a toy pistol everywhere I went because I wanted to be a cop. The only thing that has changed is that I carry a real gun and I don’t play anymore.”
Cribbs leaves with only three unsolved cases in the books.
“That’s a pretty good career,” he said.
Memories were shared and jokes at his expenses were exchanged. Cribbs said he will miss his family away from home.
He plans to spend some time with his wife of 33 years, Mary, and his daughter from a previous marriage, Tina.
“My family has been very supportive of me. ... They have blessed me. ... Whatever I do, they have agreed with,” he said. “I will be around. ... I’m going to go home and get my health better and plan to spend some time in my shop. I’ve got a few things that I want to make ... but I will be around.”