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Police probe accident that killed trooper

November 05, 2007

KEARNEYSVILLE, W.VA. - A section of W.Va. 9 that claimed the life of a West Virginia State Police trooper Friday night has been the scene of many fatal car crashes over the last 25 years, local emergency officials said Sunday.

And yet the section of the road between Kearneysville and Bardane, W.Va., is largely straight, said Del. Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson.

Tabb said he attributes the large numbers of crashes to factors like motorists who are tempted to pass along the busy highway.

"A lot of it is just cars from tremendous traffic flow," said Tabb, who is also chief of fire police for Independent Fire Co.

Trooper Brian W. Linn and two other officers were traveling west on W.Va. 9 in the area Friday about 11:30 p.m. to help another trooper who was chasing someone on foot near Sheetz a short distance up the road, police said.

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Linn was about a half mile west of Wiltshire Road when his cruiser struck a utility pole across from a Jefferson Orchards Inc. sign, rolled over at least once and stopped in a field, police said.

Linn, 25, of Martinsburg, W.Va., was flown to Winchester (Va.) Medical Center and was pronounced dead at 12:35 a.m. Saturday, police said.

At the scene Sunday, skid marks could be seen coming from the westbound lane toward the utility pole. The skid marks started after a slight crest in the road.

A state police official said Sunday it was still too early to say what might have caused the crash.

It is obvious that Linn lost control of his cruiser, and investigators will have to rule out factors like mechanical failure to determine the cause of the crash, said Capt. Rob Blair, who oversees state police in the Eastern Panhandle.

An accident reconstructionist is piecing together the string of events as part of the investigation, and his report will take about a week to complete, Blair said.

Tabb said he responded to the scene and has been told several possible scenarios.

"But I didn't witness any of it," Tabb said.

Linn is survived by his wife, Melissa, and two daughters, Paige, 9, and Madeline, 2.

Linn was remembered Sunday as a dedicated trooper and his death has been tough to take among his fellow officers, Blair said.

"He was a hard worker and well-respected," Blair said.

Blair said he was with Linn's wife Friday night at Winchester Medical Center, and many troopers from around the area also showed up at the hospital to support her, Blair said.

"It's just one of those situations you never want to deal with," said Blair, who said Linn's wife was devastated by the accident.

By Sunday, several flags, flowers and other tributes had shown up at the site of the crash.

David Holmes, a dispatcher with Jefferson County's 911 center, pulled his truck up to the site Sunday afternoon and shoved a thin staff of an American flag into the ground.

Holmes said he had been there earlier and placed a heart-shaped vine in the ground, along with a patch bearing the seal of the State of West Virginia.

Another flag - this one black with a blue line through it - was stuck in the ground. Holmes said that is similar to the colors used to honor fallen firefighters.

Holmes said he knew Linn "by voice. He was a good man," he said, as traffic whizzed by on the two-lane road.

The death of a person from the police or emergency-services community can be traumatic to their peers because their kinship often is formed through tough circumstances they face, Tabb said.

Tabb said people who work in the field were offered help on how to cope with Linn's death. Tabb did not go into detail about the sessions, saying the help is not something that is publicized.

But Tabb said the sessions are important to protect police and emergency workers from job burnout and they can be especially helpful to dispatchers, who are a "critical link" during an emergency.

At age 25, Linn was young for "something like this," Blair said, referring to a career in the state police. State police, however, accept new officers at age 21.

Linn had a military background and served in Iraq, Blair said. Pursuing a law-enforcement career is common after someone finishes a military stint, Blair said.

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