A popular police sergeant and grandfather who served at Morpeth for many years has died after battling a rare cancer believed to have begun after he was shot on duty 17 years ago.
Sergeant Jeff Smith, known to all as “JJ”, died in the Mater Hospice in Newcastle yesterday morning.
Sgt Smith, in his early 60s, was shot and seriously wounded at Nelson Bay police station in 1997 when he and another officer were talking to a young man in the old charge dock.
The man suddenly grabbed Sgt Smith’s Smith & Wesson revolver from his holster and fired.
The bullet struck Sgt Smith in the body, narrowly missing another officer.
The gunman fled up the road chased by police, but he would not stop.
As he ran, the man shot himself under the chin and died.
For Sgt Smith, his wound 17 years ago was the end of his police career – and the start of his – desperate bid to recover.
Police spoke yesterday of the well-loved officer who served in Morpeth for many years and was hightly respected by his colleagues and the local community.
His friend Barry Archer told The Mercury: “Sgt Smith died at the Mater Hospice following a battle with a rare form of cancer that started after he was shot.”
Sgt Smith had a son and two daughters and five grandchildren.
His partner for 13 years, who did not wish to be named, said: “JJ’s career was cut short so tragically and he battled ill health for 17 years.
“A very unassuming person who served at Morpeth police station for many years, JJ had a strong moral compass and he left his mark on many people.”
Nelson Bay police station has since been renovated, but an original brick still bearing a crease carved by the bullet on that fateful day has been retained in the wall as a reminder to young officers of how situations can occur.
Superintendant Allan Thompson said it was believed the cause of Sgt Smith’s cancer was due to his gunshot injury.
“We believe what happened in Nelson Bay police station caused the start of his illness,” Supt Thompson said.
Sgt Ian Allwood, chair of the Port Stephens branch of the NSW Police Association, said: “Even today, that terrible incident in the police station lives with all of us.
“Sgt Smith is still regarded by his community and his peers for his bravery and his excellence.
“The sequence of events that led up to his last day at work is something he would never have expected.
“A man being questioned in the station’s old-style charge dock suddenly grabbed Sgt Smith’s revolver and fired, grievously wounding him.
“The gunman fled down Government Road pursued by police, but before he could be stopped, he shot himself under the chin.
“He would have come to work that morning with no idea of what would happen.”