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He put flowers on his fiancee’s grave. Her father had him arrested on a charge of littering.

A planter box built by Winston “Winchester” Hagans at the gravesite of his fiancee, Hannah Ford. Hagans was detained after Ford’s father signed an arrest warrant on a charge of criminal littering. (Courtesy of Winchester Hagans)
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About a month after Winston “Winchester” Hagans got engaged, his fiancee, Hannah Ford, was killed in a three-car crash in January 2021 that shattered what was supposed to be the happiest time of their lives.

To honor the 27-year-old, Hagans recently placed a planter box full of fresh flowers and photos of the two of them on her grave in Auburn, Ala.

“She doesn’t have a headstone yet, so I just made this planter box to put on her grave,” Hagans told The Washington Post. He had been placing flowers on her grave for a year, he said.

But when police approached Hagans last month with an arrest warrant on a charge of criminal littering, the 31-year-old was confused. Since certain burial plots in the state are owned and controlled by the family of the deceased and considered private property, Hagans said city officials had reassured him that he could put the planter at Ford’s gravesite unless there was a complaint.

As he was being arrested, Hagans found out who had signed the warrant: the Rev. Tom Ford, his fiancee’s father.

“The police don’t enforce the law unless the owner of the plot tries to do something about it,” Hagans said, adding that his late fiancee’s father did not approve of their relationship and had not contacted him before the arrest. A copy of the arrest warrant obtained by The Post shows Ford as the person who signed the document.

David Dorton, a spokesman for the city of Auburn, confirmed to The Post that Hagans was arrested Jan. 24 “after a warrant was signed by another citizen.”

“Any citizen has the right to pursue a criminal charge against another upon showing that sufficient probable cause exists to believe that a crime has been committed,” Dorton said in a statement. “In this situation, as is often the case, the Police Department is simply a process server that allows parties in conflict to be before the court. The facts of the case will be presented by both parties and weighed in court.”

The minimum fine for a first-time criminal littering conviction in Alabama is $500, according to state law.

Ford did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The story was first reported by local ABC affiliate WTVM.

Hagans and Hannah Ford met at a coffee shop in Montgomery, Ala., and bonded over their faith, he wrote on his website. Ford’s father was pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Montgomery, and Hagans’s father is an evangelist in Opelika, Ala. As the couple kept running into each other at the coffee shop, Hagans said he made sure to bring a deck of cards with him so they could play games of “nines” with each other.

Hannah Ford was a rising star in Republican politics in Alabama. She worked on several political campaigns, including Roy Moore’s U.S. Senate campaign in 2017. Moore lost the race to Democrat Doug Jones after a woman accused the Republican of initiating a sexual encounter when she was 14.

Ford, who went on to lobby for conservative issues in Alabama and work for evangelist Scott Dawson’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign, had “a kind heart, happy attitude, great wisdom and many talents,” her family wrote in her obituary.

“She may have been small in stature, but she was a giant when she walked in a room,” Dawson told AL.com last year. “She knew how to deal with senators, members of the House, judicial candidates.”

Ford got out of politics around the time that her relationship with Hagans was intensifying. The couple took long drives, shared an appreciation for Winston Churchill and talked about what the rest of their lives would look like, Hagans said. They loved cooking together, with Ford wanting to cook big meals when guests came over for game nights and holidays.

Her father, however, did not approve of the couple’s relationship, Hagans said. There was one stretch when the pastor demanded that the couple not communicate with each other for 30 days, Hagans said. When they decided to keep dating each other, the decision fractured the relationship between Hannah Ford and her father.

“We jumped through all of his hoops to be together,” Hagans said. “We had to figure out if going through the craziness was worth it. She told me, ‘I can’t believe you didn’t just stop. You had every reason to stop. Why didn’t you just move on?’ And I was like, ‘You’re worth it, you’re an amazing person.’ ”

When Hagans and Ford got engaged on Dec. 5, 2020, she shared on Facebook how she had cried her eyes out with “happy tears.”

“I still can’t believe I actually got to say YES to you!!!” she wrote. “I LOVE YOU and I simply can’t wait to be your WIFE!!!!!”

Hagans was just as excited, saying on Facebook, “I cannot believe that I will be spending the rest of my life with someone who loves so deeply, prays so earnestly, cares to tenderly, acts so lovingly, speaks so sweetly, and loves Jesus so much more than she loves me.”

The couple’s wedding date of May 1 was fast approaching, and they began to look at venues. As they were leaving a barn venue, they recounted how they still had much planning to do — invites, stamps, guest list, Hagans said. She leaned over, kissed Hagans on the cheek and told him she was looking forward to seeing him in a couple days.

“I love you so much. I hate leaving you,” he recalled her saying. “I just can’t wait until we don’t have to be apart.”

Tragedy struck shortly after they left each other.

It was about 7 p.m. on Jan. 16, 2021, and Ford was driving from the venue to her home in Montgomery. But as she was traveling on Narrow Lane Road, the driver of a sedan lost control and collided with another car, which rammed into Ford’s SUV, according to police.

When she didn’t respond to his texts or voice mails, Hagans contacted her roommate and learned she had not reached home. He knew something was wrong and raced about 60 miles from his home in Opelika to Montgomery.

When he approached the intersection of the crash, he asked whether anyone involved in the wreck matched Ford’s description. Paramedics took him to see the crushed car, which led him to collapse in the middle of the street.

“I was thinking, ‘there’s no way she could be gone,’ ” Hagans said. “She was the most loving and kind and hopeful and generous person I ever met.”

She died Jan. 17, 2021, just days after her 27th birthday.

“She was one mile away from her home,” Dawson told AL.com.

The sadness of losing his fiancee was made worse, Hagans said, when it was made clear to him by her family that he wasn’t welcome at her funeral. Hagans noted he doesn’t even know the color of her casket.

Then, last month, Hagans was pulled over by police in Opelika. By the time he had gathered his license and registration, he said there were three police cars. Authorities told him there was an arrest warrant for him in Auburn — something Hagans said was “impossible.”

“The cop said, ‘I’ve never seen this before, but the warrant is for littering,’ ” Hagans said. “When I was sitting in the back seat of the police car, I saw that [Tom Ford’s] name was on there.”

Hagans, who said he still has not spoken with Tom Ford about the circumstances that led to the arrest last month, has criticized the father for signing the arrest warrant a year after the tragedy. While he’s hoping to have the charge dropped at an upcoming court date, Hagans said he is sad he can’t do something as simple as leave flowers for the woman he had planned to grow old with.

“In the graveyard where my darling is, there are dozens of other planters and plants. This is crazy,” he said choking up. “I just want to be able to put that flower box on my fiancee’s grave.”

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