Friends and relatives mourning the death of Fairfax County Deputy Gerald C. Lemaster, killed Nov. 4 in a hunting accident in Loudoun County, remembered him as a dedicated law enforcement officer with more than 30 years of service who was a role model for young deputies.
Lemaster's hunting buddies remember an avid, capable outdoorsman who hunted deer and duck and had a knack for fly fishing.
One former Fairfax County inmate thought so much of his former jailer that he stopped by the detention center to offer condolences.
"He said, 'He was always nice to me, and I'm sorry to hear what happened,' " said Lt. Col. Roger Fraser of the Fairfax Sheriff's Department.
Fraser, a longtime friend of Lemaster's, said the unlikely message of sympathy from the former inmate is a testament to Lemaster's kindness, professionalism and dedication to the job.
"Gerry was just a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy," Fraser said. "He was there when he was supposed to, and he did what he was supposed to."
Lemaster, 58, of Springfield, was killed as he was hunting with friends near Leesburg. His death has been ruled an accident, according to Loudoun County sheriff's officials. He is survived by his wife and an adult daughter.
Authorities said Lemaster was preparing to come down from a tree stand. First he sent down his black powder rifle, tying a line to the barrel and lowering it, according to Julia Dixon Smith, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. But the weapon accidentally fell to the ground and discharged.
Smith said that Lemaster was lowering the weapon the proper way but that it should have been unloaded. "It's really a tragedy," Smith said. "It's an unfortunate example of what can happen."
Lemaster's death, on the opening day of black powder rifle season and deer season, occurred in the second fatal hunting accident in Virginia in recent weeks, Smith said. Another hunter was killed in a fall from a tree stand last month, she said.
Authorities said Lemaster joined the Fairfax County Police Department in 1965 and retired in 1986 after attaining the rank of sergeant. He was hired at the Sheriff's Department in 1987.
"Gerry was a great guy," said Fairfax Sheriff Stan G. Barry, a friend who had joined him on hunting trips. "He's put in a lot of years of great service here."
Deputies at the Fairfax Sheriff's Department said that Lemaster had a reputation for being approachable and knowledgeable and that newer deputies often went to him for guidance.
"The agency is in shock," said Lt. Tyler D. Corey, a department spokesman. "He was a very nice guy. Everybody liked Gerry."
Most recently, Lemaster was assigned to the Adult Detention Center, officials said. He also worked in a program in which low-risk inmates are taken to help clean up parks and blighted property.
Fraser said Lemaster's last day was spent with two other deputies on a trip that had become an annual tradition.
"He liked to hunt," Fraser said. "He liked to fish. If there's any upside to all of this, it's that he left us doing a favorite pastime."