The Void that Cannot be Filled

The death of Deputy Ray Starling is a reminder of just how outsized & positive one person's influence can be

By Robert J. Kicklighter  |   Jul 10, 2017

When a great man dies, for years the light he leaves behind him, lies on the paths of men
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The perception of law enforcement in America is one of disdain for many, based on several founded and unfounded incidents over the last eight years. Rarely officers are shown in a positive light by the media, who relish in the conflict between police and the community because of the increase ratings and profit margins.

Then the sorrowful news spreads of the passing of a law enforcement officer, who gave his life to the community he served. A police officer who was known for his ability to make the significant drug arrests, but also his humor and value system when networking with the citizens he served. Suddenly, across the board, the disdain turns to sadness and admiration for the one that is gone.

During the early morning hours of July 8, 2017, Deputy Ray Starling, 67, of the Glynn County Office of the Sheriff was discovered deceased in Academy Creek, a favorite fishing spot in Brunswick, Ga. (Glynn County). Starling loved to fish and made this final trip alone.

Per Captain Angela Smith (Brunswick Police Department’s Support Services Division Commander), public safety personnel made the disheartening discovery early Saturday morning after Starling was reported missing the day prior.

At this point, it is too soon for investigators from the Brunswick Police Department to identify the cause and manner of death. However, it is speculated, that while fishing, Starling slipped and fell face first in the mud and the manner of death was natural or accidental.

Before his deputy position with the Glynn County Office of the Sheriff, Starling retired in 2003 as a captain from the Glynn County Police Department (GCPD) after 31 years. During his career with GCPD, Starling served as commander of several divisions but is well-known for his role in establishing GCPD’s famed Glynn/Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team (GBNET).

Starling’s legendary commitment to counternarcotics began in his early years at GCPD. Starling spent hours in destitute locations hunting drug traffickers. His dedication to capturing the bigger fish was demonstrated by several arrests of smugglers and seizing numerous amounts of narcotics destined for American streets.

“One of the things that I’m going to miss,” he told the Florida Times-Union in 2003, “is the thrill and excitement of knowing that if you’re a dope dealer and I’ve just bought from you … You don’t know it yet, but you’re going to get busted.”

Those cases included the seizure of 21 tons of marijuana smuggled in on a shrimp boat and the arrest of drug traffickers flying planeloads of pot from Key West, Fla., to Vermont. Per the Florida Times-Union (2003): “Working narcotics is hard on a marriage and family,” he said. “You might be gone two or three days and not be able to tell your wife where you are or what’s happening.”

After his retirement, GBNET continues to thrive in the department. Currently, Captain David Hassler, Division Manager of the Special Investigations Division of GCPD, which includes GBNET, operates the program established by Starling. Under Hassler’s supervision, GBNET consistently targets and apprehends criminals involved in the manufacturing, possession, and distribution of illegal narcotics within Glynn County.

Upon learning of Starling’s passing, members of the community were in shock and heartbroken. Hundreds of citizens from Glynn County, to include surrounding counties, posted their thoughts and prayers for Starling’s family on Facebook. Based on those posts, it is apparent Starling was beloved by many and will be missed by all.

Posts concerning Starling’s passing flooded Facebook throughout the day, and some stood out among others:

Sheila Justice wrote, “He was a great boss and friend. I can’t say enough wonderful things about Ray. They don’t make them like him anymore. Our loss.”

Lee Ayers wrote, “He was an excellent officer. I would never have a problem with him watching my back. He had a tremendous sense of humor, and could bring a smile to any situation.”

Also, a former Brunswick police officer, Christine Yarborough, wrote, “He was a great supervisor and a super sweet man.”

Moreover, retired Brunswick Police Chief, Toby Green, wrote, “One of the best bosses I have ever worked for in my law enforcement career.”

As the horrible day came to an end, questions surrounding Starling’s death remain. However, one thing is clear, Ray Starling was a law enforcement officer who spent most of his career fighting those whose predilection for drug smuggling and distribution countered their desire to live as productive members of society. During his life and in his passing, Starling is revered by the community he served. Starling’s humor and kindness impacted many lives, as he was an example of the ideal police officer.

He will be truly missed, as his passing creates a void that can never be filled. Police Chief Matt Doering (GCPD) summed it up in 2003 when he spoke referencing Starling’s retirement from the Glynn County Police Department, “He rises to that pinnacle where we’re never really going to be able to replace him.”

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Robert J. Kicklighter

Robert J. Kicklighter

Robert J. Kicklighter is an experienced educator with a background in criminal law instruction, law enforcement, security administration, and high-performance management. Kicklighter has a PhD. in Public Safety, Forensics, and Homeland Security and a master’s in Criminal Justice. He was the 2002 DUI Officer of the Year. He is a senior Georgia POST instructor and is currently the Law Academy Director at Savannah-Chatham County Public School System and a criminal law professor at Strayer University and Savannah Technical College.
Robert J. Kicklighter

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