HOUSTON COUNTY, Ala. (WDHN) — Alabama’s law enforcement community is mourning the loss of Lowndes County Sheriff “Big John” Williams who was killed while responding to a call at a gas station.
Williams is the fifth Alabama law enforcement officer to die from gunfire in the line of duty.
“The man was well known,” said Houston County Sheriff Donald Valenza. “Just a very very likable man, always known for his smile, good family, good sheriff, everybody knew him. Everybody in the association felt the world of him.”
One big question that often doesn’t get asked is who takes over as sheriff if something were to happen to the current one while in office.
“The coroner steps up as the sheriff until the governor can appoint,” Valenza said. “When Hughes left I actually was nominated by the Republican party and then-Governor Bentley appointed me. So, the coroner didn’t really come in, I guess could have been because it was a short period.”
In Houston County, Coroner Robert Byrd would be the one to step in to fill the position until the governor appoints someone.
“A sheriff’s department is completely different then what we do,” Robert Byrd said. “I would not know how to run what he does, no question about that. I pray it never happens on my watch but if it does I’ll promise it’ll be a short period of time, the governor will appoint someone pretty quick.”
Other cases where the coroner steps in as sheriff include when the sheriff is incompetent to act, when the sheriff is imprisoned, in cases which the sheriff is a party; and in such cases as he is directed by the Judge of Probate.