After leaving his family's business to pursue his dream of working in law enforcement, William Beebe wasted no time working to make a mark as a Harford County sheriff's deputy.
He came in early and worked late, one colleague said, and followed up on leads and lent a hand whenever possible. At an awards ceremony last week, with his fiancee and her 9-year-old son present, he received a commendation for thwarting an auto theft ring.
Late Monday, as his shift drew to a close, Beebe, 28, was on his way to assist fellow deputies on an attempted-suicide call when his police cruiser ran off a neighborhood road in Abingdon, and careened down an embankment and into a shallow creek.
He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 1 a.m. yesterday.
It was the first time in more than 100 years that a county deputy had been killed in the line of duty.
At a news conference yesterday, a visibly shaken Sheriff R. Thomas Golding praised Beebe as an "aggressive and dedicated member" of the sheriff's office who had a bright future.
"By all accounts, he was a true professional who loved his job," said Golding, who sat behind a framed photo of Beebe that was taken at the awards ceremony.
William H. Beebe Jr. was to marry his longtime girlfriend in April.
Helping to raise fiancee Tina Kolb's son, Jesse, brought Beebe the most happiness, said Deputy 1st Class Paul Marziale, a close friend.
Beebe coached the boy's sports teams and played a leading role in his Scouting groups - a pursuit that Marziale described as being "like a full-time job."
"He took it on, and he loved every second of it," he said.
Marziale recalled Beebe as a "Renaissance man" with a magnetic personality.
Beebe had been with his family's heating, ventilation and air-conditioning business, Marziale said, before joining the sheriff's office in October 2004, where he was assigned to the Southern Precinct in Edgewood. He was also a member of the honor guard.
Investigators have not determined a cause of the accident, and an autopsy was scheduled to be performed yesterday to determine the cause of death.
Deep tire marks were visible in the grass yesterday between a home and a guardrail on Montrose Way, marking the narrow path Beebe's 2006 Ford Crown Victoria patrol vehicle traveled before landing in the ravine.
Sheriff's spokesman Robert B. Thomas said the agency's last death in the line of duty occurred when Constable Frank Bateman was killed in a shootout in downtown Bel Air in 1899.
A report of the incident from The Sun said Bateman and a man exchanged gunfire while Bateman attempted to arrest the man for disorderly conduct. Both were fatally wounded.
More than 40 deputies and county leaders met early yesterday morning at the Abingdon Volunteer Fire Company, where a grief counselor was made available.
Deputies who served on Beebe's shift at the Southern Precinct were placed on administrative leave, and plans were made for other staff members to cover for them.
"This is still a community where the police and prosecutors know each other by first name," said Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly.
Harford County Executive David R. Craig ordered flags flown at half-staff, and deputies placed a black band over their badges as a symbol of mourning.
"It's a sad night when not everyone goes home, and last night was a sad night," Craig said.
Golding said there were no witnesses to the crash, but residents called 911 after observing the emergency sirens from his vehicle in the ravine.
The attempted-suicide call was later determined to be "unfounded," he said.
Golding pledged a thorough review of the crash, though he cautioned that some questions might remain.
"Like a lot of things, there may not be an answer. It may be just a tragic accident," Golding said.