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West Virginia sheriff shot dead, suspect wounded

By Lee Mueller

WILLIAMSON, W., Virginia (Reuters) - A drug-fighting West Virginia sheriff was shot dead as he ate lunch in his car on Wednesday, and local media said the suspected shooter was wounded and captured after a high-speed chase.

Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum was shot at point blank range at least three times, twice in the head, in a Williamson city parking lot, according to a witness who was walking toward the lot when the shooting took place.

As Crum ate lunch in his departmental SUV, a man got out of a parked pickup truck in the lot, approached Crum's side of the vehicle and shot him through the open window, said the witness.

"There was a muffled pop, and then two more, still muffled but louder," said the witness, who has a business in downtown Williamson and declined to be identified by name. The gunman then went back to his pickup and sped off.

The Williamson Daily News reported on its website that police captured the suspected gunman as he fled toward Delbarton, about 13 miles southeast of Williamson.

The suspect pulled a gun and was wounded in an exchange of gunfire with officers, the paper said.

A motive for the shooting has not been established. Police in Williamson, a coal-mining town of about 3,000 people in southwestern West Virginia, were not immediately available to comment.

Crum, a former magistrate, took office as sheriff at the beginning of the year. He had launched a campaign called Zero Tolerance to clamp down on local drug trafficking, which centers on illegal prescription drugs.

Alexis Batausa, 29, who works at a diabetes treatment center across the street from the parking lot, told Reuters that the sheriff had eaten his lunch in the parking lot at least three days a week to keep an eye on a suspected drug operation nearby.

"It's a huge shock to all of us," he said.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Daniel Trotta, Alden Bentley, Cynthia Johnston and David Gregorio)

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