Emotional sheriff reads letter from deputy's widow

Dickson County Sheriff Jeff Bledsoe gets emotional reading a statement from the widow of sheriff's Deputy Sgt. Daniel Baker after Baker was shot and killed while on duty.

Posted: Jun 2, 2018 3:03 PM
Updated: Jun 2, 2018 3:03 PM

The man accused of fatally shooting sheriff's Deputy Sgt. Daniel Baker in Tennessee was given a reminder Friday of the law enforcement veteran and former US Marine.

"Sgt. Baker's handcuffs were immediately taken in our possession, and they are on the suspect at this time and he will be taken to the Dickson County Jail with those," Sheriff Jeff Bledsoe said.

Steven Wiggins was captured Friday morning following a two-day manhunt, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Wiggins, who faces the death penalty, was taken to a hospital with injuries consistent with spending days exposed to the elements, authorities said.

A trooper had earlier spotted Wiggins standing on the edge of a road in a neighboring county, Tennessee Highway Patrol Lt. Col. Dereck Stewart told reporters.

Trooper Kevin Burch, new to the job, noticed that the man's tattoos and appearance matched those of the suspect wanted in the deputy's shooting death, Stewart said. Burch drew his weapon.

"Mr. Wiggins ... was totally obedient to the trooper's order to get on the ground," Stewart said. "This is a good day for us and ... allows us all to be able to focus on the Baker family."

Bledsoe said Baker -- "being the man that he is" -- had volunteered to work an earlier shift when he was killed Wednesday morning in Dickson County, about 40 miles west of Nashville.

The sheriff read a statement from Baker's wife, Lisa, who thanked law enforcement officials and the community for their support.

"I would like to ask our family, friends and community to help our daughter Meredith to always know how wonderful and amazing her father is," Bledsoe, growing emotional, read from the widow's statement. "His service and dedication to his country and community will always be remembered."

The bureau tweeted a photo of the bespectacled and handcuffed Wiggins, his shirt and jeans muddied and torn, in the back of a patrol car two days after authorities say he shot Baker to death following a 911 call reporting a suspicious vehicle.

District Attorney General Ray Crouch said he will seek the death penalty against Wiggins, who faces a charge of first-degree premeditated murder.

The manhunt for the 31-year-old suspect began Wednesday morning along winding, treacherous terrain in rural Middle Tennessee, authorities said.

One day before the deputy's death, Wiggins was charged with aggravated assault, accused of slapping and pulling the hair of a woman he also threatened with a gun, according to a police report.

Erika Castro-Miles, described as an acquaintance of the suspect, told police Wiggins had been "doing meth all night and smoking marijuana" before assaulting her and stealing her car from a motel Tuesday morning in Kingston Springs, Tennessee, the police report said. He eluded arrest.

Castro-Miles, 38, was charged this week with one count of first-degree murder in connection with the deputy's death, according to the bureau. Prosecutors will also seek the death penalty against her.

She told investigators she was seated in the deputy's vehicle with Wiggins and saw the suspect shoot Baker, 32, according to a criminal court affidavit. The woman fled and hid under a house before she was arrested.

Baker, a 10-year law enforcement veteran, had responded to a resident's call about a suspicious vehicle about 7 a.m. Wednesday, said Susan Niland, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee bureau.

After a period of not being able to contact the deputy, authorities tracked down Baker's vehicle with GPS in a wooded area about 2 miles from the location of the initial call by an officer from another agency. Baker was found dead in his vehicle.

Baker joined the sheriff's office full time in 2008 and became a member of the special operations unit in 2013, according to the sheriff.

A reward for information leading to Wiggins' capture grew to $46,000 after contributions from Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, federal law enforcement agencies and police associations from various cities.

"If the trooper was eligible, I think he would do the right thing and give it to Baker's family," Stewart said of the reward and the highway patrolman who made the arrest.

Bledsoe said he saw video from the shooting scene Thursday that left him "even more heartbroken" about what Baker endured.

"When you're able to witness that from our video, it's more disturbing," he said, without elaborating.

A friend of Baker's set up a GoFundMe page for the family of the slain deputy, who had recently purchased a home.

"He is one of the most courageous, loving, and (hardworking men) I know and he would be the first to volunteer or help someone out," wrote the friend, Blaine Marlin.

Baker once helped rescue a woman trapped underwater in a vehicle and, more recently, joined in the capture a gunman at a shooting outside a theater, according to Bledsoe.

Baker's funeral will be held on Tuesday at First Baptist Church in his native Dickson. He will be buried at Dickson County Memorial Gardens.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Dickson County, Tennessee.

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