A Virginia State Police trooper assisting in a drug investigation was fatally wounded in a shootout that also left a suspect dead just outside Farmville.
The trooper, Lucas B. Dowell, a member of a state police tactical team, was helping the Piedmont Regional Drug and Gang Task Force execute a search warrant at a home in Cumberland County on Monday.
State police said the suspect started shooting at officers after they entered his home shortly before 10 p.m. in the 1500 block of Cumberland Road just north of Farmville.
According to the police, members of the team returned fire and fatally wounded the suspect — a 44-year-old man who was sentenced decades ago to 23 years in prison for attempted murder and robbery in Chesterfield County.
“This is an extremely difficult day for the state police,” said Col. Gary T. Settle, the state police superintendent, in a statement. “We are humbled by Lucas’ selfless sacrifice and grateful for his dedicated service to the commonwealth. He will forever be remembered by his state police family for his great strength of character, tenacity, valor, loyalty and sense of humor.”
Dowell, 28, was taken to Southside Community Hospital in Farmville, where he died from his injuries. The suspect, Corey Johnson, died on the scene.
Gov. Ralph Northam called Dowell’s death a “great loss to the commonwealth.”
“My heartfelt condolences go out to his family and friends who knew Trooper Dowell best,” Northam said in a statement. “We are grateful for his dedication to the safety of our communities, and for all of those who put themselves in harm’s way to protect others.”
State Sen. Bill Carrico, a former state trooper from Grayson County, gave an emotional tribute to Dowell on the Senate floor Tuesday.
“Like all young men and women who choose this profession, they’re there to protect the people of this commonwealth and to put their lives on the line every day that they go out there, and he selflessly did that last night,” Carrico said. “In the words of John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’ ”
“There’s six other members of that team alive because he laid down his life for them.”
Carrico continued, struggling at times when speaking of Dowell. Carrico said he had been friends with Dowell’s parents for 40 years.
“He had impeccable character. He was an outstanding athlete. He was a great brother to his sister,” Carrico said. “He is the true image of a state trooper.”
Dowell was good friends with Carrico’s son, who is also a trooper, and Dowell used his humor in serious situations, Carrico said, “to show them that stress could be overcome by laughter.”
Carrico moved that the Senate adjourn in honor of Dowell, which the Senate did.
At the age of 19, Johnson was convicted in Chesterfield County of attempted murder, robbery and two firearm charges in connection with an incident where he was accused of robbing a man at a bank ATM, according to court papers.
Herbert C. Gill Jr., then a Chesterfield Circuit Court judge, told Johnson at a June 1994 sentencing hearing that given the defendant’s young age, he struggled to comprehend how Johnson could be before the court. But then the judge said things started to make sense when he looked at Johnson’s criminal record.
“Looking at your juvenile record, which is abominable, you’re familiar with guns,” Gill said, according to the transcript of the hearing. “You’re familiar with carrying guns to school. You’re familiar with brandishing guns. So it is not difficult for me to look at your record and know why you are before the court.”
The attempted murder and robbery charges against Johnson stemmed from a December 1993 incident where Johnson was accused of appearing with a gun at the truck window of a customer who had just withdrawn $150 from a drive-through ATM, according to a 1995 decision from the Virginia Court of Appeals that upheld Johnson’s convictions on those charges.
The bank customer gave Johnson the money and then followed a vehicle with Johnson and some co-defendants, the appellate court’s ruling says. During the chase at least 20 shots were fired and some of them struck the customer’s car, the appellate decision says. Johnson denied he robbed the customer or ever fired a weapon, the appellate court said, before adding that the evidence was sufficient to convict him of the charges he faced.
Gill, who has since retired as a Chesterfield judge, told Johnson at a July 1994 post-conviction hearing that the charges against him entailed “one of the worst cases I’ve tried since I’ve been on the bench in seven years,” according to a court transcript. Gill said the outcome of the robbery could have been more tragic, adding that if that had been the case, “we would have not been sitting here talking about a number of years, but could be very well sitting here talking about whether you live or die.”
Johnson was sentenced in 1994 to serve 23 years, and after violating the conditions of his probation or parole in 2008, he received some additional active time. Parole wasn’t abolished in Virginia until 1995.
Dowell had been living in Lynchburg and was from Chilhowie, a town in Southwest Virginia near Bristol.
He graduated from Chilhowie High School, where he had been a standout athlete, his former coach said.
Jeff Robinson, a teacher who is head coach of the school’s football and baseball programs, said Dowell played defensive end and tight end for the varsity football team, which had a 10-2 record Dowell’s senior year. Dowell also was a starting center fielder on two district championship baseball teams for the school.
“He always had a smile on his face,” Robinson said. “His smile could light the room up. Just a great personality. When you were with him, your were smiling or laughing.”
“He was a great leader,” Robinson said. “He could lead by example, as well as vocally.”
When Dowell was a senior, Robinson put together a media guide that profiled senior baseball players. For the guide, Robinson asked Dowell in 2009 where he saw himself in 10 years. Dowell replied that he would be working either as a U.S. marshal or in the FBI.
“Law enforcement was always in his future,” Robinson said.
After high school, Dowell earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Radford University.
“Trooper Lucas Dowell embodied the true spirit of a Highlander during his service to the Commonwealth and his time on Radford’s campus,” university spokeswoman Caitlyn Scaggs said in a statement. “Within the criminal justice program, he made an impact on his professors and fellow students, and did the same after graduation through his service as a Virginia state trooper.
“Our Highlander family is deeply saddened by his death in the line of duty and will be forever thankful for his contributions to our community both on campus and beyond. Our sympathies are extended to Lucas’ family, loved ones, Virginia State Police colleagues and all impacted by his passing.”
No other troopers were injured during Monday’s shootout. In accordance with state police policy, the two troopers who fired their weapons have been placed on administrative leave.
Monday’s shooting marks Virginia’s 66th line-of-duty death, and Dowell is the 10th trooper killed within the past eight years. Of the 10 who have died since June 2011, four were fatally shot, two died in a helicopter crash and four died in traffic wrecks.
Dowell had served with the Appomattox division since he graduated from the department’s basic training in 2014. He served on patrol in an area encompassing the city of Lynchburg as well as Amherst and Campbell counties. Since 2015, he was a member of the Appomattox Division Tactical Team.
He is survived by his parents and a sister.