SNOW HILL, N.C. -- All day Tuesday, drivers along N.C. 903 slowed down to stare at a lone oak tree that stands about three miles south of Snow Hill in front of a horse pasture.
The tree, about a foot in diameter, sits near the intersection of N.C. 903 and Crowfoot Road and is the only one within 50 feet.
A chunk of bark had been ripped off the tree and landed five feet away, sprinkled with bits of shattered glass -- a somber reminder of what happened at that very spot Monday night.
Greene County Sheriff's Office Deputy David Jennings Dawson III was responding to a backup call about 10 p.m. Monday when he lost control of his Chevrolet Impala patrol car, according to Sheriff Lemmie Smith. He died on impact exactly two months after starting his job.
Tire marks that lead to ruts in the road's shoulder indicated Dawson was on N.C. 903 heading north toward Snow Hill when he swerved into the left lane's shoulder, then overcorrected and hit the right side of the tree with the driver's side of the patrol car. The wire from a fence adjacent to the scene of the accident had been torn from wooden posts, and a burned alternator and a patch of burned grass were in the pasture.
Robert Heath, CEO of Erie Insurance in Snow Hill, said he was at the site of the crash Tuesday morning. Heath said the deputy was thrown from his car.
"They said he was ejected -- that's what the chief paramedic on the scene said this morning," Heath said. "He was ejected ... it looked to me about 10 feet."
The N.C. Highway Patrol said no additional information, other than the time and place, available about the crash because the case is still under investigation.
Dawson, 21, was a Lenoir County resident, splitting time living with his father, David J. Dawson Jr., in La Grange and mother, Brenda K. Dawson, of Kinston. Smith said he was in the process of moving to Greene County.
He graduated from North Lenoir High School in 2008 and completed his Basic Law Enforcement Training at Lenoir Community college this spring.
Smith and his wife, Sue, visited Dawson's family in La Grange Tuesday morning to pay their condolences.
"It's tough right now," said a distraught Lemmie Smith. "It hurts to have to go through this again."
This is the second time in a little more than a year the Greene County sheriff has lost a man in the line of duty.
Smith and his fellow Sheriff's Office personnel lost a comrade-in-arms July 28, 2010, when Jon-Michael Willis was shot to death by Daniel Myers in Shine.
Flags in the county were flown at half-mast Tuesday in honor of Dawson.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service