Caring mother followed tradition of public service

For Sheffield, police duty was inescapable calling

officer's funeral today

August 28, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Several years ago, Crystal D. Sheffield bluntly told her husband that she was going to become a city police officer. She didn't give a reason, and her husband didn't need to ask for one.

He knew that she was following a family tradition of public service. Her mother was a nurse; her brother and sister patrolled city streets as police officers; another brother was a soldier in the Army; two sisters taught in public schools.

"She has always been a person who helped others," said William Andre Sheffield, 41, her husband, a lieutenant in the city Fire Department. "It's what she wanted to do."

Officer Sheffield, 35, died in a car crash last week as she was responding to help a fellow officer in trouble, becoming the city's first female officer to die in the line of duty.

Her patrol cruiser was struck by another police car racing to the same call. The three-year police veteran's funeral will be held today, after a 10 a.m. wake at Mount Pleasant Ministries, 6000 Radecke Ave. She will be buried at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.

In the days after her death, police officials and colleagues described an officer who fearlessly ran down dark alleys and compassionately resolved domestic disputes. City officials called her a hero willing to risk her life to help a colleague.

Yesterday, her family echoed those sentiments. But they also spoke of a determined mother who wanted to set a good example for her 11-year-old son, Darian.

"She was a mother first," William Sheffield said. "She wanted to be his role model."

Born Crystal Allen, Officer Sheffield grew up in a rowhouse near Memorial Stadium in Northeast Baltimore, the second-youngest of eight children. She loved to run, often racing children from other blocks up and down her street. When she wasn't in school or sprinting around her neighborhood or dancing to disco music, she was singing in her church choir and attending services.

Her mother, Cornelia Allen, believed that church offered instruction and guidance. A private nurse to some of the city's most affluent residents, Allen taught her children that serving others was more important than making money.

"You can make all the money in the world, but you can still be a miserable soul," Mrs. Allen said. "I told them that money wouldn't bring them peace and happiness."

Crystal Allen was working as a clerk at a deli when she met William Sheffield; they married in 1987. Three years later, she gave birth to Darian.

Soon, her husband decided to become a firefighter, fulfilling a lifelong dream, leaving behind a managerial job at a factory.

Officer Sheffield did not complain about her husband's new - and dangerous - job. She knew it made him happy, relatives said. Meanwhile, she pursued her career as a caterer, eventually becoming manager of food service for Loyola College.

Her oldest sister, Barbara A. Magness had become the first sibling to join the city Police Department, in 1980. Thirteen years later, an older brother, Frederick Allen, joined the city force, too.

In 1999, Officer Sheffield followed her siblings and earned her badge. She began patrolling a quiet area of Southeast Baltimore. But that wasn't challenging enough, she told relatives, so she transferred to one of the most demanding posts in the heart of West Baltimore.

"She needed to be some place that was busy," her husband said.

Officer Sheffield often came home exhausted from a shift of rushing from call to call, arresting drug dealers, burglars and thieves. Many police described her as an aggressive officer who made solid arrests and wrote excellent reports.

They were not surprised that she would die trying to help a fellow officer.

"The good ones, the ones who work hard, they are often the ones that get hurt," Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris said yesterday. "She was one of the good ones."

Since her death, many people have approached family members with tales of the officer's compassion.

One woman told a story of Officer Sheffield spotting an older man who appeared ill and driving him to a hospital.

Another woman attended Officer Sheffield's viewing at March Funeral Home West, looked at her face and told a family member: "You don't know me, but Crystal helped me get off drugs."

Despite putting in long hours in the Western District, working off duty as a security guard, even selling Avon products, Officer Sheffield focused much of her attention on her son.

She pored over Darian's homework and made unannounced visits to his school to check on him and make sure teachers were giving him appropriate attention.

But the visits became so frequent that they no longer surprised Darian.

"I just expected her to come," Darian said. "I'd look out the door and she was there. ... She wanted me to be the best."

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