Shot Bright Memorial

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 29, 2009

District Attorney John Champion (left) fields a question from the media Monday during a press conference at the Panola County Sheriff’s Department. At right is Chief Deputy Otis Griffin, who is overseeing operations following the death of Hugh “Shot” Bright. The Panolian photo by Rupert Howell

Service planned Wednesday for Panola sheriff

By Rupert Howell

Panola County Sheriff Hugh Wayne “Shot” Bright died Sunday afternoon from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound according to District Attorney John Champion, who said no foul play was suspected.

Bright was 50.

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Champion and Panola Chief Deputy Otis Griffin met with reporters at a news conference Monday morning at the David M. Bryan Justice Complex, assuring those present that day-to-day operations of the Sheriff’s Department would continue as usual.

Asked why the sheriff would take his life, Champion responded, “It took us all by surprise.”

The district attorney noted that Batesville police and the Mississippi Department of Investigation were nearing completion of their investigation.

Asked how the death of his boss and friend was affecting him, Chief Deputy Griffin stated, “I can’t stop. I can’t let the men (deputies) stop. . .  We will continue to do what we do 24-7.”

Champion emphasized how hierarchy of management had been used first by former sheriff David Bryan, and currently by Bright, to ensure that duties of the department continue despite the loss of the leader.

Champion, who is acting as  spokesman for the department, noted that key people in key positions would allow the department to continue smoothly.

An interim sheriff must be named by county supervisors. The county board took a first step Monday by declaring a vacancy in the office.

A special election will fall in November 2010.

Bright apparently took his own life at the home of a friend on College Street. He had attended church at First United Methodist Church, and dined at the Panola Country Club, before the incident.

Law enforcement vehicles lined the street while deputies and other law officials anxiously awaited word on the condition of their boss and comrade as word of the incident spread rapidly through modern communication conveyances as first law enforcement then citizens began to gather near the College Street location.

An ambulance took Bright to an awaiting AirEvac helicopter that landed on College Street next to Batesville Intermediate School. That helicopter was waved off with most of those watching understanding the significance.

Bright was then rushed to Tri-Lakes Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead shortly after.

After Bright was pronounced dead, deputies were summoned to the Panola County jail where county sheriffs from many north Mississippi counties converged and pledged their support both in outlying fringe areas of Panola County and with law enforcement and manpower during memorial services and days of mourning.

Sardis Police Chief John Still,  who had worked with Bright both as a deputy and in his current position, might have reflected what other small police departments thought of Bright,  stating, “I never called him for help that he didn’t come through, whether it was manpower or anything else.”

Bright’s department had assisted Sardis, Como and Crenshaw not only with law enforcement issues but also maintenance and building projects since he was elected sheriff.

Employed as a dispatcher and jailer in 1984, former sheriff David Bryan appointed Bright jail administrator in 1996. He served in that capacity until 2005 when he was elected to fill the unexpired term of Sheriff Bryan, who died that year.

Bright was then re-elected to a full four-year term in which he was currently serving.

Most recently, Bright had overseen an expansion to round-the-clock coverage by Panola deputies.

Services will be held Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the Batesville Civic Center. Burial will be in Magnolia Cemetery. Rev. Clay Baker and Rev. Karen O’Brien will officiate. Visitation will be held today from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Panola County Courthouse.

(For full obituary, please see page A2 of today’s Panolian or click the obituary link below.)