It was early 2000. I was in Dayton, Va. to visit the Dayton Virginia Police Department and speak to the chief of police about enrolling in the Virginia Law Enforcement Accreditation Program.
The young administrative assistant sitting behind the old wooden desk was pleasant and courteous.
“May I help you, sir?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am. I am here to speak with Chief Farris,” I replied.
She buzzed his office and within a couple of seconds the chief’s door swung open. A man of about 45 years of age walked through the door dressed in a crisp white shirt with a badge and chest full of insignia. He was well-groomed with a professional bearing.
He shook my hand and the first words he spoke were, “Sir, do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?” as he handed me a cassette tape.
Throughout my career in law enforcement I had encountered many idiosyncratic personalities and characters, but this was the first time I had ever been greeted in this manner.
Our conversation began with my telling him the advantages of law enforcement accreditation, particularly for a small town. I went on to explain how it would benefit not only the Dayton Police Department, but the citizens of the community as well.
Chief Farris listened intently, and asked several appropriate questions. He was an intelligent man with a sincere demeanor about him.
After a brief discussion about accreditation, Chief Farris leaned in closer to me. “Sir, may I tell you about an experience I had? I call it the ‘Shadow of Death’ story,” he said.
The chief started out slowly. He told me he had previously been a Virginia State Trooper assigned to the Richmond post. It was Thanksgiving Eve, Nov. 21, 1979, and Trooper Farris had been running radar on Interstate 95, about 15 miles north of Richmond.
A car sped by at 82 miles an hour. A few miles down the road, Farris turned on his lights and siren and pulled over the speeding vehicle. Farris then exited his cruiser and began to walk toward the suspect’s vehicle.
As he approached the back door of the car, another car, traveling at 65 miles an hour, hit him squarely in the back.
According to Farris, the velocity of the car flipped him over the hood of the car and he landed on the interstate. Two semi-trucks were barreling down the interstate toward him, but at the last moment veered away, narrowly missing the fallen trooper.
“An ambulance arrived at the scene and paramedics tried in vain to revive me,” Farris said. “They pronounced me dead and took me to the morgue in Richmond. As they rolled me down the hall and into the morgue, I miraculously came back alive. Although it was freezing, I rolled the blanket off, and they rushed me to a hospital.”
“God saved me to do His work,” Chief Farris said, as he eyed me deeply.
I didn’t know what to say. I had read scriptures about a dead man who had come back to life, of course, but it was the first time I had met one in person.
Afterward, I did some research on Chief Farris. I discovered he had been traveling throughout Virginia, visiting hundreds of churches to share his “testimony” of God bringing him back to life. To some, he became a champion for the Lord.
He passed out cassette tapes of his near-death experience to everyone he met. It was a stirring story, and he told it very well.
Unfortunately, it may not be true. A local newspaper did a back-story and could not verify the chief’s story.
According to the Times-Dispatch article written at the time of the incident, everyone involved in the accident was treated and released. On the cassette tape, Farris claims to have woken up in the morgue.
According to Mr. Robert Holloway, director at the morgue, there is no record of Trooper Farris ever having been there. None of the morgue employees on duty remember the chief having been there. No one has a memory of him being dead, let alone coming back to life.
Curiously, the chief’s superior officer at the time of the accident, Sergeant Hill, also reported knowing nothing about Farris having been pronounced dead. Neither did any of the other state troopers.
We will never know if the chief’s story is true or not. Only the chief and the Good Lord know for sure.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County commissioner.