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Former Fayette County Sheriff Steve Kessler dies after unexpected illness


The Register-Herald

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Former Fayette County Sheriff Steven Wayne Kessler died Wednesday night after a sudden and unexpected illness, Fayette County Sheriff Mike Fridley reported.

Fridley said it is with a very heavy heart to report the death of the county’s beloved former Sheriff.

The cause of the unexpected illness causing Kessler’s death is still unknown, and Fridley said his body has been sent to the State Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy.

Former Fayette County Sheriff Steven Wayne Kessler died Wednesday night after a sudden and unexpected illness.

In a press release, Fridley reported Kessler was a 1976 graduate of Mount Hope High School and was an outstanding athlete while in school. He was named to both All-County and All-State football teams, and was also on the State Championship in the mile run.

Kessler started his law enforcement career with the Mount Hope Police Department and graduated from the West Virginia State Police Academy in 1981. He joined the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office in 1981.

Fridley said Kessler served with FCSO from 1981 until his retirement at the end of 2016, a total of 36 years.

During his lengthy career as a deputy sheriff, Kessler worked as an undercover drug investigator, making more arrests for drug violations than any other officer in the history of the FCSO.

Kessler was a member of the original SWAT team for FCSO, served as a Drug Abuse Resistance Education instructor in the schools, and worked all shifts in all areas of the county as both a deputy sheriff and as a patrol supervisor. He also worked as a bailiff in the circuit court when needed.

Fridley said Kessler was assigned to the Detective Bureau of the FCSO in 1994 and was later promoted to Chief of Detectives.

During his time serving as a detective, Kessler was involved in the investigation of numerous major criminal cases, including the murder of Cheryl Flippo at Babcock State Park.

Fridley said one case always haunting Kessler was the unsolved murder of Jonathan Skaggs, who was murdered in the Dempsey Branch area of the county in 1999.

Even after leaving the Detective Bureau, Fridley said Kessler never forgot the Skaggs case and continued to pursue leads and push for an indictment.

Kessler’s dogged pursuit of justice finally bore fruition when Alfred Clinton Toney was indicted for the murder of Skaggs in 2016.

After leaving the Detective Bureau, Kessler briefly served as the detachment commander of the Fayetteville Detachment before being named Chief Deputy by then-Sheriff William R. Laird, IV.

Kessler served as the Chief Deputy until 2009, when he took office as the elected Sheriff of Fayette County, a position he would hold for the next eight years until his retirement at the end of 2016.

Fridley said during Kessler’s tenure as the Fayette County Sheriff, he was known for both his compassion for crime victims and the concerns of the citizens the county serves, as well as for his straightforward manner of speaking and getting things accomplished.

When the Derecho storm hit Fayette County, Fridley said Kessler was the one who acted.

“There was no need to wait on a state or federal declaration of disaster or for politicians to look for photo ops as they tried to decide what to do,” Fridley said. “Sheriff Kessler called in several of his deputies who owned pickup trucks and orchestrated the delivery of much needed supplies of food and water to the far-flung areas of the county.”

The release stated Kessler was an admirer of President Theodore Roosevelt, and often quoted Roosevelt’s thoughts on decision making. “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

When the floods of 2016 hit Rainelle and the Nallen area of Fayette County, Kessler worked to get emergency shelters set up and citizens transported to the shelters from the hard-hit areas.

Kessler made national headlines following his response to reports of looters in the Nallen area when he released an official statement stating the following: “Looting will not be tolerated. If we catch you we will take you to jail. If the citizens catch you, you may not make it to jail.”

Fridley said Kessler never failed to stand up for the citizens he was sworn to protect, and they loved him for it.

During his career with the FCSO, Kessler received numerous awards and commendations. He received an award from the Governor for Outstanding Achievement in Homicide Investigation and was named as the 2010 Outstanding Law Enforcement Administrator by Fayette County Memorial Lodge #118 of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Kessler served as both the President and Secretary/Treasurer of the Fayette County Deputy Sheriff’s Association at various times, and was responsible for organizing several fishing outings for under-privileged children in Fayette County.

Following his retirement from FCSO in 2016, Kessler assumed the elected office of Fayette County Circuit Court. Up until the moment of his death, Kessler was serving the citizens of the county.

The release stated Kessler was a man’s man. When he was not working you could find him climbing mountains in search of trophy deer or fishing the lakes and rivers of the state in search of large bass.

Kessler leaves behind his wife of more than 25 years, Regina, as well as his daughters, Nichole, Jessi and Sarah, and his grandchildren Maddox, Nora, Peyton and Emma. He was preceded in death by his parents.

“The loss of Steve Kessler is an unbelievable tragedy,” Fridley said. “Steve literally spent his entire adult life in public service to the citizens of the county.”

Fridley said the current and former deputy sheriffs who worked with Kessler are devastated over the tragic loss.

“Kessler lived a life of action, adventure and service that most can only dream of,” he said. “While his untimely death is devastating to all of us in his extended law enforcement family, his family has asked that we not mourn his death but celebrate his life.”

Funeral arrangements have not been finalized as of noon Thursday, but FCSO officials said they will release information once the plans are finalized by the family.

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