Firefighter David Crenshaw
Photo credit: Courtesy Photo
ANDERSON COUNTY, S.C. -- David Crenshaw, who spent five decades as a Pendleton firefighter and four years as Anderson County's sheriff, was remembered by friends Monday as "a gentle giant" who gave his life to public service.
Crenshaw was responding to a car crash on behalf of the Pendleton Fire Department when he collapsed on a pump panel Monday morning. Workers at the scene immediately started trying to revive Crenshaw, but he was unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at AnMed Health Medical Center in Anderson shortly before 8 a.m. He was 63.
Anderson County Coroner Greg Shore said it appears Crenshaw died of a heart attack.
"He was helping people hurt in a crash at S.C. 88 and Porter Road when he collapsed," Shore said. "He was doing what he loved to do and what he was made to do."
A native of Pendleton, Crenshaw joined the town's fire department in the 1960s when he was just a teenager. Crenshaw, who stood 6 feet 8, would give the rest of his life to that fire department, including 21 years as its chief.
"He has always been a big guy, so even as a teenager, he was already as big as some of the men at the fire department," said Pendleton Fire Chief Bobby Pruitt. "But he was a gentle giant. As big as he was, his heart for service in this community and in this county was even bigger."
Crenshaw served in the Pendleton Police Department before joining the Anderson County Sheriff's Office in 1974. Veteran lawman Carl Anderson was chief of investigations at the sheriff's office then, and Crenshaw worked under him.
"I picked him up for his first day of work," Anderson said. "We lived close to each other, so it seemed like the thing to do."
The two men formed a bond that would last decades. "He was a diehard public servant, a good officer, a man who, if he was breathing, wanted to be able to help somebody else if he could," Anderson said, his voice breaking. "He also had just a great sense of humor."
That's why Crenshaw laughed, Anderson said, when his colleagues started affectionately calling him "Big Dummy."
"That became his nickname after he was doing something with his gun and he shot his own finger," Anderson said. "But he laughed right along with us because he knew it was all in good fun."
Crenshaw's first stint at the sheriff's office lasted for 15 years. He left in 1989, after Gene Taylor defeated E.E. "Duck" Cooley to become sheriff.
Crenshaw added another job to his resume, being named a magistrate.
In that post, Crenshaw would take on a job he never anticipated - and he joked that he would never do it again.
"There was a weekend in 1989 when I was out of town and so was another coroner," Shore recalled Monday.
"The coroner who was on call that weekend, Sam Martin, became very ill, to the point that he had to be hospitalized. Our law allowed a magistrate to serve as the coroner in an emergency situation like that, so we asked David if he would do it. He said he would for the weekend.
"We told him that if anybody died, he just needed to investigate it the way that he had when he was at the sheriff's office," Shore said. "That weekend, we had three homicides, four fatal accidents and two suicides. We broke records for the number of deaths in Anderson County in a weekend. David said he'd never be a weekend coroner again."
In 1992, Crenshaw made a run for sheriff, challenging Taylor, but losing by 401 votes.
More than a decade later, Taylor decided not to run for another term as sheriff, and Crenshaw challenged then sheriff's Capt. John Skipper for the job. Crenshaw beat Skipper in the Republican primary in 2004. Crenshaw served as Anderson County sheriff until 2008, when Skipper challenged a second time.
Skipper beat Crenshaw in the June 2008 Republican primary, and went on to become sheriff.
"David has been a big benefit to the county over the years," Skipper said Monday.
Chad McBride, Skipper's spokesman, worked as an investigator and in internal affairs for Crenshaw.
"He taught us a lot and I have a great deal of respect for him," McBride said.
Prayers were said for the Crenshaw family at the First Monday Club community luncheon, and state Rep. Brian White said it was a "terrible day" in Anderson County.
Flags flew at half-staff Monday in Pendleton, where a Crenshaw poster still hangs in Granny's Grill and where older cars still have "Crenshaw for Sheriff" bumper stickers. A dozen cars were parked outside Crenshaw's family home near Town Hall.
"We want to let the family know we support them," Chief Pruitt said. "David was really a lifelong friend of mine. He called me Rookie even though I have been at the fire department for 45 years. He served about five years longer than I have, and it's going to be hard for all of us here to come to work without him."
Crenshaw's most recent role was as a member of the Pendleton Town Council. He took office just a month ago.
"I've got a vested interest in seeing that Pendleton does well and that's what I'm trying to do," Crenshaw said after his first meeting.
Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Kalley worked with Crenshaw for 12 years at the fire department before working with him on the council. Kalley said Crenshaw had some health problems recently, but never complained about them.
"He was outgoing and never met a stranger," Kalley said. "He loved Pendleton."
Former Pendleton Mayor Randy Hayes said Crenshaw was beloved in his town.
"If you look up 'public servant,'" Hayes said, "I'm sure David's picture is there."
Crenshaw is survived by his wife, Lynn, and two adult children.
A funeral is planned at 2 p.m. Thursday at Pendleton United Methodist Church on Broad Street.
Independent Mail reporters Kirk Brown, Charmaine Smith-Miles, Anna Mitchell and Jennifer Howard contributed to this story.
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