While the New Year’s Eve snow hit Little Rock, Sr. Cpl. D. Leroy Sitton began his last patrol of I-30 from the I-40 interchange in North Little Rock to the I-440/ I-530 interchange in Little Rock, a route patrolled by this Arkansas State Police Trooper since 1985, an area that “has an accident every once in awhile.”As the flakes began falling on the road, he wondered, “What am I doing here?”
Before the night was over, Sitton finished a 31 ½-year journey started July 1, 1969, his 31st birthday. On that day, he entered the Arkansas State Police academy, leaving behind a 12-year-job at Crow-Burlingame to follow in his father’s footsteps as a lawman. Haskell E. and Mattie (Tomlinson) Sitton had moved their family throughout North Central Arkansas while the elder Sitton worked as a deputy sheriff in Boone County, a city policeman in Harrison (twice), and as the City Marshall in Yellville, Clinton and Melbourne. The elder Sitton retired in 1975 as a Lieutenant in the Arkansas Highway Police, having served 40 years as an officer of the law.
Having survived an attempt on his life while serving as the City Marshall of Clinton and also helping solve a murder case which garnered national attention, the elder Sitton knew a few things about enforcing the law and passed this knowledge on to Sitton. Sitton, who had witnessed the attempt on his father’s life, paid attention.
“The first thing my dad told me was to always treat people the way you’d like to be treated until they make you treat them otherwise, and to always have compassion for people,” he said. “Just because you get someone for speeding or a DWI doesn’t mean they’re scum of the earth. It just means they made a mistake.”
Along with this advice, Sitton received an education from the State Police Academy. Though originally assigned to Batesville, his assignment changed to Lonoke after the death of Trooper Allen Buford caused ASP to send more experienced Troopers to Batesville. Upon graduating from the academy on Aug. 8, 1969, he was temporarily assigned to Little Rock. Eleven years later, a captain noticed the temporary assignment and placed Sitton on permanent assignment to Little Rock.
After seven months on the job, Sitton was temporarily assigned to administer driver’s license examinations in addition to his highway patrol duties. That temporary assignment lasted 14 years. From 1970-1984, Sitton administered exams in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Sherwood, Jacksonville, Conway, Cabot, Benton, Lonoke, England, Des Arc, Hazen and Perryville. While giving driver’s tests, he was involved in numerous accidents, but one sticks in his mind. In the mid-1970s, Sitton encountered a Conway widow needing a license to drive after her husband died. Though she passed the written examination, she had never driven an automobile before. Her road test proceeded without problems until she tried parallel-parking in the Conway Police Department’s parking lot.
Instead of braking, the driver hit the gas and slammed into the car in front of her, causing a three-car pileup. The doors to the car jammed, causing Sitton to crawl out the door window and proceed to help the driver out of her window. After the driver got out of the vehicle, she turned to Sitton and asked, “Does this mean I fail?” He could only reply, “Yes, ma’am.” The driver returned a month later and passed her exam. Overall, Sitton said he enjoyed giving driver’s tests and met thousands of people. Even now, members of the general public, new State Troopers and other police officers say hello and remind Sitton that he gave them their driver’s license.
By 1985, Troopers ceased giving driver’s tests and Sitton began working the highway again. He is thankful he avoided serious injury throughout his career, as his job called for the 5’10″and 150-pound Trooper to sometimes subdue men twice his size. One such incident occurred when he was preparing for a shift change in the late 1980s. Five minutes before midnight, Sitton began a high-speed pursuit through the Lakewood area in North Little Rock following the I-40/U.S. 67-167 interchange. At speeds sometimes exceeding 100 mph through a construction zone and the McCain Mall parking lot, he chased the vehicle, finally stopping its progress by crashing into its side as the driver tried a right-hand turn from the Warden Road access onto McCain Boulevard. The suspects’ vehicle slid through the intersection, coming to rest approximately 20 yards from Sitton’s cruiser. Full of adrenaline, Sitton jumped out of his totaled vehicle and proceeded to the other car where a driver and passenger were attempting to escape.
“At that moment I felt like I could whip King Kong and I slammed (the passenger) to the ground and cuffed him,” he said.
As the driver attempted to leave, Sitton also jerked him to the ground and stood over him until help could arrive. It turned out the men were escaped felons from Virginia. Though somewhat funny in retrospect, Sitton admits there’s been times he was frightened on the job, noting “Anyone who tells you they haven’t been scared is either crazy or lying to you.”
However, the job also provided some laughs. While working I-630 in morning rush-hour traffic, an airplane had to make an emergency landing on the interstate, doing so without hitting another car. The plane’s engine had stopped running, causing the descent.
“When I got up to the plane, I asked him for his driver’s license to drive on my freeway,” Sitton says with a grin. The pilot got away with a warning, one of many issued when the situation called for compassion instead of a ticket. Sitton called on his compassion the most when working thousands of accidents. One thing he won’t miss is working fatal accidents, as they bothered him for a week or more after the incident. Though he often didn’t know the victim, on occasion he knew relatives and shared in the family’s grief.
Though most people may know Sitton as a lawman, others know him as an active participant in Masonic organizations, for which he served as Potentate of Scimitar Shrine in 1997 and Monarch of Bendemeer Grotto in 1998. Residing in the Indian Hills area of North Little Rock since January 1970, he served as president of the North Hills Lions Club from 1974-1975. His historical interests have led him to document the history of the Arkansas State Police, and to document every federal and state historical marker in Arkansas while touring the state in 1985-1986. He turned the second project into a slide show, which he has presented to numerous civic organizations around the state. Sitton was also actively involved in the booster clubs of North Little Rock’s Lakewood Junior High and Northeast Senior High, where his children attended school.
Sitton is proud of his family. He credits his wife, Rebecca “Becky”(Macy) Sitton, with helping him through his career while she worked with the United States District Court, where she currently serves as a Criminal Docketing clerk. The two married on July 7, 1977 at 7:07 a.m. Though the date may seem unusual, Sitton explains the significance. “I always felt like seven was my lucky number, and Becky didn’t want me to forget our anniversary,” he said.
Both helped in raising two children each from previous marriages. The eldest son, Chuck, currently works as a business manager at Fletcher-Tate Ford in Little Rock. David, Leroy’s namesake, follows the family tradition while working as an administrative assistant for the Arkansas Highway Police. The youngest son, Ronald, attends the University of Tennessee where he is working on his doctorate in Communications. Sitton’s daughter Aronna, a registered nurse, lives in Maumelle raising his two grandchildren, Macy and Benjamin, with her husband Chris Sorvillo. Sitton often returns to Harrison to see his family, including Charles and Mittie Youngblood, Clifford Tomlinson, Warren Tomlinson, and numerous cousins. He also visits friends from his days at Harrison High School, from which he graduated in 1957.
While working with the state police, Sitton drove nine police cruisers, and worked under eight governors, eight ASP captains, and six ASP colonels. He finds it a little ironic that he started the state police under Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, and retired under the administration of Lt. Gov. Winthrop Paul Rockefeller. In 1979, then-Gov. Bill Clinton named Sitton an Arkansas Traveler. In 1992, he became a field-training officer in and has since trained numerous troopers. In 1997, he received an official commendation from Governor Mike Huckabee in March and from the Fraternal Order of Eagles in April.
On Dec. 31, 2000, Sitton started his final shift alone, but rode with Sgt. Steve Pickens after the snow began falling since he didn’t have studded tires on the last of his nine cruisers driven in his career. About 10:30 p.m., the weather turned extremely bad. Pickens took Sitton back to the house an hour and a half before Sitton’s final shift ended.
“Leroy, I’m taking you home. You’re on the countdown and I don’t want anything to happen to you,” Pickens said. Sitton didn’t argue, and went home. Instead of wondering what he was doing on the road, Sitton had to ponder life off the road. For the first time in 31 ½ years, he didn’t have to work wrecks or stop speeding motorists. However, he hasn’t completely let go of his former life, joining the State Police Retirees in late January. “I’ll always be in (the State Police family),” he says, so don’t be surprised to see him running around – just not with the blue lights flashing.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2001 Arkansas Trooper, the official publication of the Arkansas State Police Association. An altered version appeared shortly thereafter in the Harrison Daily Times.