Funeral procession to honor lawman

Sensabaugh dies of heart attack at 72

June 20, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A funeral procession will drive past Carroll County Courthouse, the sheriff's office, the jail and Westminster State Police barracks today, allowing the law enforcement community to pay tribute and bid farewell to one of its own.

Grover N. "Sam" Sensabaugh, former sheriff, retired barracks commander and most recently court bailiff, died Friday of a heart attack at Carroll County General Hospital. The longtime Westminster resident was 72.

He was best-known as a law enforcement officer, but he also owned and trained several racehorses and was a pilot with more than 50 years of flight experience.

"He got into police work to make a better life for his family," said Grover Edward Sensabaugh of his father. "It became a big part of his life. He was a good policeman who worked hard and played hard, too."

Mr. Sensabaugh retired from the state police in 1981 after nearly 30 years, reaching the rank of lieutenant and commanding several barracks, including Westminster and Frederick. He was elected sheriff twice, from 1982 to 1990. Four years later, he ran unsuccessfully for county commissioner . But police work, not politics, was his main focus, said his son and his fellow officers.

After serving in the Navy during World War II, the elder Sensabaugh returned to his native Cumberland to work in the coal fields. But he saw no future in the arduous work, his son said. His stint in the military drew him to police work.

"He was a military veteran, used to the regimen and structure, and used to helping people," said Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning, who was Mr. Sensabaugh's first sergeant at the Frederick state police barracks. "Sam was one of those individuals always trying to help."

Mr. Sensabaugh graduated from the state police academy in 1954, "a later bloomer" at 27, said his son, who lives in Ontario, Canada. Mr. Sensabaugh often trained new officers.

In 1963, Jerry Gooding was a rookie assigned to the Westminster barracks, with a stern Corporal Sensabaugh as his mentor. It was the beginning of a lifelong association.

"You always knew where you stood with Sam," said Mr. Gooding. "He was never a man to mince words. You knew if he was upset or pleased."

The two men would work on investigations together, especially when Mr. Gooding headed the resident trooper program at the state police barracks. They coached Little League together, and Mr. Tregoning, another good friend, was an umpire. When Mr. Gooding and Mr. Sensabaugh retired, they worked together again at the courthouse as bailiffs.

"He was a lawman's lawman and a family man, and so proud of both," said Mr. Gooding.

Bill Holley, chief bailiff, worked with Mr. Sensabaugh as a trooper and later as his chief deputy. What stands out the most, Mr. Holley said, was Mr. Sensabaugh's dedication.

"He was very fair and wanted everyone treated as equals," said Mr. Holley. "That included the prisoners. He would never browbeat them because of some shortcoming in their lives. Sam always tried to make things better for the staff and the prisoners."

Mr. Sensabaugh led the effort to expand the prison. Although a jail expansion project was funded in 1990, plans were scrapped when Mr. Sensabaugh lost the election for sheriff to John Brown. The recently completed addition reflects much of Mr. Sensabaugh's plans. Mr. Tregoning, who won the sheriff's job in 1998, said his former lieutenant was "a true professional, who excelled at criminal investigation. He was truly concerned with public safety. His heart was very much in this community and he loved public service."

Mr. Sensabaugh's life was not all work. He owned three planes and did most of the required routine maintenance. But training horses proved his most successful pastime.

"He won at least 50 races with some 20 horses, racing at Charlestown, Shenandoah and Pimlico," said his son. "The training meant early mornings and late nights, but it was a therapy he preferred to golf."

Services are at 11 a.m. today at Pritts Funeral Home and Chapel, 412 Washington Road, Westminster.

Twice widowed, Mr. Sensabaugh was married to Betty Jane Sensabaugh and Patricia Sensabaugh.

In addition to his son, survivors include his wife, Elizabeth Cook Sensabaugh; a daughter, Margaret Ann Isaacs of Hanover, Pa.; a stepdaughter, Sharon Goetz of Smithsburg; and four grandchildren.

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