By Jackson Sharman
Lieutenant Steve Funkhouser of the Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Office sat in his cruiser by H&J Tire Co., ready to ram the car of a robbery suspect who was speeding toward downtown Lexington in late May.
Police said the man, Dustin Caudill, had robbed someone who was pulled over on Interstate 81. He exited I-81 onto Route 60 and headed toward Lexington, firing shots at the state troopers who were chasing him, according to court records.
Officers stopped Caudill at the intersection of Nelson and Estill streets, within sight of the spot where Funkhouser had established position to block the suspect from getting into downtown Lexington.
“Steve was willing to put himself, his body in danger to protect others,” said Jared Moon, the commonwealth’s attorney for Rockbridge County and Lexington. “And if that is not a sign of a man’s character, I don’t know what is.”
Nine months later, Funkhouser is the sheriff of Rockbridge County.
Lexington Police Chief Sam Roman said Funkhouser’s quick thinking impressed him.
“He’s proactive versus reactive. He was thinking two steps ahead. In case the suspect got away, he would be in a position to mitigate that problem,” Roman said.
Funkhouser, 50, who grew up in Natural Bridge, joined the sheriff’s office in 1996 and worked his way up from a patrol deputy.
“I had an older brother that was a deputy at the sheriff’s office when I was growing up and worked with him here for a while as well,” Funkhouser said.
Funkhouser ran unopposed. But some county officials say he is the right man for the job.
“He’s a go-getter, he takes a lot of initiative to get things done,” Moon said. “I think he has shown that throughout his career and certainly in the last four and a half years since I have known him.”
Funkhouser said he wants to continue building on strong relationships the sheriff’s office has in the community.
“[I] certainly want to have a strong presence in the community with community groups, nonprofit agencies and a way that the community knows us as individuals and not just as deputies,” he said.
Funkhouser faces the challenge of balancing community opposition to stricter gun control proposals that may become state law. In December, Rockbridge County joined over 100 cities and counties across Virginia in declaring themselves as Second Amendment sanctuaries.
The Virginia House of Delegates passed several red-flag gun laws in January that would give police the power to take guns away from people whom a court deems dangerous.
Versions of some of the bills have passed the Senate, but Gov. Ralph Northam has not signed any into law. Sheriffs in Grayson and Culpeper counties have come out publicly and said they will not enforce such restrictions if they become state law.
Funkhouser said he did not want to comment on political matters.
Roman pointed to Funkhouser’s willingness to ram head-on into a speeding car as evidence of the sheriff’s approach to law enforcement.
“It’s always better when you can look out and forecast what the issues, problems, successes, what everything is going to be from a proactive posture instead of just reacting to it as it happens,” the chief said.
Jesse Bartlett, a cashier at Cattleman’s Market in Lexington, said Funkhouser will be good for the county because of his familiarity with it and its residents.
“I think he knows the town really well, and I think that he’s a good community man,” she said, “and he’s got a family and roots here.”