Burke County killings have impact in Caldwell County

Mar. 13, 2014 @ 05:52 PM

The violent deaths of four people in western Burke County is resonating particularly strongly for law enforcement officers in Caldwell County.

Several knew U.S. Forest Service officer Jason Crisp, 39, of Marion, who was shot and killed Wednesday while he helped the hunt for a man suspected in the killing of a couple. Crisp's police dog also was killed.

"His territory included Caldwell County," Caldwell Sheriff Alan Jones said. "He's come here to work with our reserve officers up at Wilson Creek."

Rusty Dellinger, Caldwell County ranger for the N.C. Forest Service, has known Crisp for about 10 years and saw him as recently as two weeks ago.

"We worked together on a fire in Caldwell County," Dellinger said. "He took a lot of pride in his job, and was always professional. He was so easygoing, just a good person to be around."

Wednesday's events started after the Burke County Sheriff's Department to check on the welfare of a woman who had not been to work since March 7. Wednesday morning deputies found the bodies of Levi and Rhonda Whisnant, who apparently had been dead inside their home for several days. Cars that were missing from the home prompted deputies to search for Troy David Whisnant, 38, Levi Whisnant's son. One of the vehicles, a pickup truck, was found near the Burke-McDowell County line.

Crisp was shot and killed around 2:30 p.m. during the hunt for Whisnant, and Crisp's .45-caliber handgun and ammunition clip were missing when his body was found. About two hours later officers found Whisnant in the woods, and he was shot by three officers after he fired at them.

The Caldwell sheriff's office sent about 25 officers to Burke County to help search for Whisnant, Jones said. An armored vehicle was also dispatched if needed.

"We wanted to help in any way we can," he added. "This just brings back memories from tragedies that we've gone through in the past."

Burke and Catawba counties assisted deputies here for several days in September 2008 in the search for a man who killed Deputy Adam Klutz when Klutz had come to Fox Winkler Road in the Oak Hill community to investigate a 911 call in which the caller hung up. Klutz was the first officer to arrive at the scene. He was shot in the chest while waiting for backup to arrive. The second officer to arrive, Lt. Chris Martin, was shot three times in the chest, but all three shots hit his bulletproof vest. The shooter, Skip Brinkley, an Iraqi war veteran, was found dead on his property on Fox Winkler Road a few days later from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Caldwell County officers will be on hand for the funeral of Crisp.

"We want to be there for them," Jones said. "When one agency hurts, we all hurt."