Florence, SC – South Carolina Public Safety Officer Jackson Winkeler was the first U.S. police officer killed in the line of duty in 2020 when he was gunned down during a traffic stop on Sunday morning.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) said that 26-year old Officer Winkeler, who was assigned to the Florence Regional Airport Police, made a traffic stop on Gilbert Avenue shortly before 6 a.m. on Jan. 5, the Associated Press reported.
Officer Winkeler was fatally shot by the driver of the vehicle he stopped.
The suspect fled the scene by was soon apprehended by Florence County deputies, the Associated Press reported.
Officials have identified the gunman as 37-year-old James Edward Bell.
No information has been released about what police suspect was Bell’s motive for killing the young police officer.
Officer Winkeler, who was also a volunteer firefighter with the Latta Fire Department, lived in Dillon and grew up in Floydale, according to his Facebook page.
“He lost his life doing what he loved the most. Helping people. Jackson was one of the best firefighters that you could ever have on a fire scene,” Dillon County Fire Lieutenant Nic Bethea told WPDE.
“No matter what time of the day it was, Jackson was willing to help,” Lt. Bethea continued. “Jackson had a heart of gold. From myself and all of Dillon County Station 2 firefighters, we will continue praying for the family. Latta Fire 23 will forever be Jackson Winkeler.”
The flag at the Latta Fire Department was lowered to half staff on Sunday in memory of Officer Winkeler.
Sellers Police Chief Crystal Moore said that she was a school resource officer at Latta High School five years ago when the future Officer Winkeler first approached her about making his career in law enforcement, WPDE reported.
“He came to me and said he wanted to go into law enforcement back in 2014,” Chief Moore said. “It’s pretty touching when you’ve got one of your students to come to you and wants to start a law enforcement career.”
She said she stayed in close touch with the budding law enforcement officer and when he turned 21 and she was chief of the Latta Police Department, she hired him, WPDE reported.
The chief said that Officer Winkeler would have begun training on Jan. 12 at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy to join that police department.
“All he ever talked about was being in law enforcement,” Chief Moore told WPDE.
The chief said she heard about the shooting at the airport and texted Officer Winkeler to make sure he was okay.
She told WPDE she didn’t hear back from him and got very worried. Then she heard the sad news from friends.
Chief Moore talked about what a genuinely good person Officer Winkeler was, and how she had once seen him stop in the middle of a rainstorm to help an elderly woman who had a flat tire.
“He was in a mud puddle changing that tire,” the chief explained. “Just so she could get on the road safe.”
Latta Fire Captain Josh Jackson said that Officer Winkeler, who signed up to volunteer for the fire department five years ago, was known for being a major help in his community, WPDE reported.
“We live in a small, but tight community,” Capt. Jackson said. “If you ever asked him for a favor, he was always the first one there.”
He had a reputation for helping around the firehouse, WPDE reported.
“Anything that needed to be done in the fire house or fire trucks, he was… ‘I’ve got it, I can take care of it,” the fire captain said.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of South Carolina Public Safety Officer Jackson Winkeler, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Officer Jackson Winkeler, your life mattered.