By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Jeb Bladine: Jack Crabtree followed clear moral compass

Jack Crabtree, 62, died far too young. Graveside services Friday (today) will celebrate his memory and promise a new life – services I regrettably will miss. Were that different, I would be telling some of these stories and hearing others.

N-R archive readers can find “Jack Crabtree” in about 1,000 newspaper articles since 1999, and many more before then. From the time he became a Yamhill County Sheriff’s Department detective in 1990 — and through 12 years as sheriff — Jack was YCSO spokesman for all manner of difficult stories: homicides, major thefts, sex charges, robberies, drownings, crashes, forgeries, fights and drugs-drugs-drugs.

Oh, and he also launched a Christmas toy drive.

Jack was always professional. His highest-profile investigations included the murder of 12-year-old Lacey Robancho and trial of Jefferey Dana Sparks, and the horrific murder-suicide of a local man who killed his wife and four school-age children.

He took the lead in heart-wrenching work of investigating child abuse allegations. When asked about that, Jack responded with unassuming candor: “It’s real simple. There’s nothing more important than to protect kids. If nobody does these investigations, who will put a stop to a child being abused?”

Jack Crabtree, both resolute and compassionate, followed a clear moral compass.

When Sheriff Norm Hand announced his retirement in 2001, instead of seeking an interim appointment, Jack just kept investigating crimes while preparing for the 2002 election. He won that three-man race with 72 percent of the vote; ran unopposed in 2006; and in 2010, against one challenger, took 87.4 percent.

Turns out — who knew? — Jack excelled in department budgeting. He used that skill judiciously as sheriff in an underfunded county, modernized the department, and raised the personal and professional standards of others upward toward his own benchmarks.

Many people thought Jack could have fought and overturned the county’s three-term limit, but instead, in 2014, he stepped aside with this advice for voters and his replacement:

“We need somebody in there who absolutely guards our safety … (someone) citizens can trust at all times to do the right thing for them … (someone) qualified and committed to keeping the organization moving fiscally ahead. Having good people on board is a big umbrella under which so many other good things happen — we have to have people with integrity and high standards.”

One of Jack’s strongest traits was an unqualified belief in accountability — something learned by the men and women who worked for him and by the criminals they encountered. As he said: “If there’s no accountability at the top, well, you know the old saying about the tree rotting from the top down? I’m serious. That’s a big issue.”

There’s a great story about Jack, while shopping at Washington Square in street clothes, running down a shoplifter and holding him for Tigard police. Three years later, that former meth addict showed up at the YCSO to thank Jack for his “divine intervention that day … That’s the day my life changed.”

But here’s one story I remember personally:

Two juveniles created a controversy we knew would become a high-profile story. We asked for identification, telling Jack that news coverage ultimately would reveal the names and give people the impression he was not being forthcoming. He declined, following personal beliefs of protecting juvenile names, and the story played out as we predicted.

Afterward, Jack came into the office to say, “You were right about that story; I’ll never make that mistake again.”

That told me all I needed to know about Jack Crabtree as sheriff: Total accountability and accessibility to us and to Yamhill County citizens. Those traits served him well — and earned him people’s trust — not just at YCSO but throughout his life.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

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