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'Finest display of camaraderie ever seen': COVID-victim sheriff's services Saturday; selection of successor set

Staff writers

Services for Marion County sheriff Rob Craft, 64, who died Feb. 16 from complications of COVID-19, will be 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Marion Sports and Aquatic Center.

Craft died at Stormont-Vail Hospital in Topeka where he had been airlifted two days earlier.

Craft had been in intensive care on a ventilator at Newton Medical Center before being transferred to Topeka to receive dialysis treatment for kidney failure.

The U.S. flag on the sheriff’s office and jail in Marion was lowered to half-staff in his memory.

Craft’s body was escorted back to the county shortly before midnight Feb. 16 by members of the Kansas Highway Patrol, where he had served before becoming sheriff in 2009.

A former Marine, Craft began his law enforcement career in 1981 as a state trooper stationed in Marion.

“110 is back in the county,” undersheriff Larry Starkey announced over police radio as the convoy entered the county. Craft’s call sign was 110.

In a posting on social media, a member of the sheriff’s office staff wrote: “Our hearts are breaking. But we will hold strong for you. Rest easy, sir, we have the watch from here.”

A procession of 28 state, county, and local law enforcement vehicles escorted the sheriff’s remains from the US-56/77/K-150 roundabout to Yazel-Megli Funeral Home.

Their red and blue emergency lights flashing, another two dozen fire and emergency medical vehicles from throughout the county lined E. Main St. from Thorp St. to Elm St.

Even as bitterly cold winds and sleet began to fall, dozens of law enforcement officers gathered outside the funeral home to pay their respects.

Funeral director Brad Yazel called the procession “absolutely the finest I’ve ever seen.”

Yazel said the trip from Topeka was fast-moving, with troopers and officers leading and following the hearse.

“When I rounded the roundabout and turned into town, there was a line so big even this crusty old undertaker got a tear in his eye,” Yazel said. “That was the finest display of camaraderie I’ve ever seen.”

By state law, Undersheriff Starkey will serve as sheriff until a successor, nominated by Republican precinct committeemen and committeewomen, is named by the governor.

Starkey has confirmed he will be a candidate when the precinct committeemen and committeewomen meet at 5 p.m. March 5 at Marion County Lake hall.

“Sheriff Craft put together an excellent department,” Starkey said. “He picked people for the job based on his needs. He kept everybody to the highest legal, moral, and ethical standards — he insisted on it. I intend to do the same.”

Starkey said people who knew Craft knew also he did not act on the spur of the moment.

“He put me in this position knowing that this moment might come, that it would be a possibility,” he said. “We didn’t want it to, but I’m sure that entered into his thinking.”

Applications for appointment will be available at the county clerk’s office.

A primary (if necessary) in August and general election in November will fill the last two years of Craft’s unexpired term.

Craft’s daughter-in-law, Jenny Craft, and her father, pastor Jeff Lee of Aulne Church, both died of COVID in October.

Last modified Feb. 23, 2022

 

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