- Associated Press - Sunday, February 1, 2015

AIKEN, S.C. (AP) - Frances Williams waits each day for something she knows will never come.

Hanging behind her on a wall in the USC Aiken police department, where she is an officer, is a photo of Master Cpl. Sandy Rogers, a 27-year veteran with the Aiken Department of Public Safety who was gunned down Jan. 28, 2012. She was also Williams’ life partner of nearly three decades.

“I’m still waiting for her to come home,” she said. “When she got the call, we were standing right here, talking about having lunch.”

Law enforcement was in Rogers’ blood. Her grandfather, James Sprawls, was a former Barnwell County sheriff and Aiken chief of police.

Rogers’ brother and sister, Jimmie Rogers and Jenny Johnson, remember that Rogers liked to play cowboys and Indians, and she always wanted to be the cowboy or police officer.

“One day, she said, ‘You can’t tie me up where I can’t get loose,’” Jimmie said. “I tied her up, and she couldn’t get loose, so I went back in the house, waiting for her to come get me.”

About two hours later, their mother came home.

“Mama comes in: ‘Where’s Sandy?’” he recalled. “I said, ‘Uh-oh. She’s still tied up.’ I got cut for that one.”

Sandy was the youngest of four children, and Johnson said that she was very much the baby of the family.

“Everybody had to eat dinner at the table, but if Sandy wanted french fries from Hardee’s, Jimmie had to go get them,” she said.

Despite Rogers being the baby, the family said they weren’t initially concerned when she entered law enforcement.

“I never gave it a second thought,” Jimmie said. “What went bad in Aiken? A few robberies, but what happened that was real bad?”

He said that changed when Master Public Safety Officer Scotty Richardson was shot and killed barely a month before Rogers. Johnson said she grew concerned years earlier, when Rogers was injured during a traffic stop on Richland Avenue.

The suspect in that incident was accused in several harassment cases, and Johnson said dispatch took a while to get back to Rogers with the tag information.

“By the time they got back to her, she was on the ground fighting for her life,” she said. “If it hadn’t been for two pedestrians going by and stopping, Sandy would have been killed. He’d gotten her gun almost out.”

Johnson remembers an ominous conversation she had with her sister shortly after.

“After that day, Sandy said, ‘When I die, somebody’s going to come into some money because I’m gonna get killed on the job,’” she recalled. “I said, ‘Sandy, you’re crazy.’”

Lt. Karl Odenthal was Rogers’ supervisor on B-shift. It’s the same shift on which he was placed when he joined Public Safety and first met Rogers.

“She had a good sense for crime,” he said, recalling a midnight patrol when Rogers spotted a truck traveling down Richland Avenue towing a trailer filled with construction equipment.

“Sandy said, ‘That doesn’t look right. What’s it doing driving through here at this time,’” he said, adding that Rogers pulled over the truck because it had an expired tag.

“Most officers would have written a citation and called it a day, but Sandy went ahead and ID’d everybody because it was a suspicious activity,” he said.

Rogers sent the truck and its passengers on their way. A few hours later, a construction crew reported equipment stolen from their site near where the traffic stop was made.

“It hadn’t been reported yet. Sandy had already solved the crime before it was even reported,” Odenthal said. “Things that came naturally to her weren’t yet natural to some of these officers.”

Odenthal said Rogers also had a good sense of humor. He remembers roll-call the day she died, and she was leaned back in her chair, laughing uncontrollably.

“We said something funny, and Sandy was laughing so hard,” he said. “She couldn’t sit straight up, and she was holding her chest, laughing.”

In May 2013, Odenthal joined more than 1,600 people in the Police Unity Tour, biking more than 250 miles in memory of fallen law enforcement officers. The tour concluded at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., on which Rogers’ name is now etched.

Odenthal said the long rides during the training and the tour itself were emotionally and mentally healing.

“I was kind of able to talk to Sandy in my head as I’m riding,” he said. “It gave me the opportunity to lay things out in my mind in terms of Sandy’s death, accept those things I couldn’t change and, in my own way, say goodbye to her. You know - this one’s for you.”

Frances Williams has worked at USC Aiken for several years. She said her relationship with Rogers created problems at Aiken Public Safety while they both worked there, so she left for the Department of Juvenile Justice and then Aiken Technical College before coming to her current position.

The morning of Jan. 28, 2012, Rogers and Williams decided not to have breakfast together, so Rogers came to USC Aiken so they could talk about having lunch. While they were making those lunch plans, Rogers received a call about a suspicious vehicle in Eustis Park.

“She said, ‘Let me go back (up) my guys,’” Williams recalled. “That’s the last thing she said to me.”

Williams was listening to radio traffic and heard Rogers tell dispatch she’d arrived at the scene. Then: Shots fired. Officer down.

Williams was first to the scene years ago when Rogers was fighting for her life on Richland Avenue, and on this day, she again responded.

“I didn’t know it was her,” she said. “I kept hearing other people talk. I got out the car, and one of the officers there said, ‘Frances, you don’t want to go over there.’ And I did.”

It’s often said that time heals all wounds. Williams said that’s not the case.

“We’re talking about 27 years,” she said. “Twenty-seven years. It’s gonna take a lot of time. A lot of time.”

Williams has good memories of her and Rogers to hold onto, including watching University of Tennessee women’s basketball and the Atlanta Braves. She said Rogers loved animals, and even had a peculiar taste for frozen, raw french fries.

“She’d walk by the freezer, pick one out of the bag and eat it,” she said. “I tried one, one time. It’s not good.”

Some days, it’s easier for Williams to get up and come to work at the same place she last saw her partner of 27 years. Other days, she said, it’s hard.

“Three years,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like three years. Sometimes, it seems like yesterday. Sometimes, it seems like it’s been forever. I still haven’t cleaned out the house. Her stuff is still there.”

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Information from: Aiken Standard, https://www.aikenstandard.com


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