He was the Palmetto State's Sheriff of the Year in 2003.

He was the sheriff in charge during the longest standoff in state history.

He was Orangeburg County Sheriff Larry Williams, and now he's gone.

Williams died at Palmetto Health Richland hospital in Columbia Tuesday afternoon, just one week shy of his 54th birthday.

Orangeburg County Chief Deputy Barbara Walters released this statement Tuesday evening:

"The men and women of the Orangeburg County Sheriff's Office are deeply saddened by the loss of our Sheriff Larry Williams. His passing leaves a void in the state's law enforcement community that was filled by a man with a giant heart for his county and the state. His love for the citizens of Orangeburg County was marked by more than 30 years as a community servant."

Walters said the entire OCSO staff extends its condolences to Williams' family. She said she and the command staff would continue to manage the daily operations of the Sheriff's Office.

Funeral arrangements will be announced by the family later this week.

The law enforcement community remained in shock late Tuesday as news of Williams' passing spread.

Orangeburg Department of Public Safety Chief Wendell Davis heard the news while attending a city council meeting. He said he enjoyed a good working relationship with Williams through the years.

"Sheriff Williams is a long-time colleague and friend of mine," Davis said. "I think he had the best interests of Orangeburg County in mind with his vision to move law enforcement forward. It was a difficult task, but I think he utilized every resource he had available to do just that."

First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe said his family received the news at home late Tuesday.

"My entire family is devastated; we were all close to Larry," Pascoe said. "My oldest son looked up to Larry. We had a great relationship."

Pascoe said he thought of the many times he'd met with Williams over breakfast or coffee to talk about "God, family, cases, life in general."

"Everything he did was for the community," Pascoe said. "I'm going to miss him."

The three-term sheriff and Branchville native had been hospitalized in recent weeks at an undisclosed location. No information has been released about Williams' condition other than reports that he was improving.

The last report on Williams came from OCSO spokesman Keisa Gunby Peterson on Sept. 15. She said then the sheriff "continues to improve daily."

"The cards, phone calls and acknowledgements for his full recovery have been a source of encouragement for Sheriff Williams and his family," she said at the time.

But precisely what the sheriff's condition was remains a mystery.

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OCSO officials have not released what caused Williams to enter the hospital around Aug. 30. The sheriff is believed to have initially entered the Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg before being transferred to Columbia. It was not known until Tuesday that he was at Palmetto Richland.

Officials did issue a statement asking for privacy during the illness.

At around 8 p.m. Tuesday, a closed meeting was held at the Orangeburg County Law Enforcement Complex, where nearly 100 OCSO deputies and friends met, presumably to be informed of the sheriff's passing.

Orangeburg County Council Chairman Johnnie Wright described his reaction to the news of Williams' death Tuesday as "almost speechless."

Wright said Williams was a "good man and a good friend" and extended his prayers for the family and the deputies.

"It is devastating to all of us at the county," Wright said. "We are a team, and he was a part of that team."

Williams was initially elected sheriff in 2000, winning re-election in 2004 and going on to win a third term in 2008. He had served in law enforcement for the past 33 years. He held a bachelor's degree in criminal justice administration from Claflin University. His law enforcement career included service with the police departments of Orangeburg and Branchville.

When Williams was elected sheriff in 2000, Orangeburg County ranked the worst in the state in violent crime. In 2008, he said his efforts as sheriff had been to "bring about the statistical reduction of crime in Orangeburg." Toward that end, he said, the county had made a "remarkable" turnaround from number one in crime in 2000 to 38th out of 46 counties in the state.

"I made some bold steps when I was elected sheriff. Through hard work and great community support, I've been able to accomplish most of the things I set out to do," Williams said at the time. "I've brought about a change in the operation of the sheriff's office. There's a more professional approach in how we do our business and how we respond to citizens. ... The regionalization process helped us tremendously in response time."

Davis said the reduction in crime was a joint effort.

"It was not anything that the City of Orangeburg or the county could do alone. In joint partnership, we were able to accomplish a great deal," he said.

"We will really miss our partnership with Sheriff Williams, and we will miss him."

In 2003, Williams' agency faced what would be the longest standoff between law enforcement and an armed suspect in the state's history. For 37 hours, the OCSO SWAT team, along with SLED agents, negotiated with the gunman who was holding a 5-year-old child hostage in a home in a residential area. The suspect was taken into custody, and the child was unharmed.

Calhoun County Sheriff Thomas Summers said he and Williams were elected the same year in their respective counties a decade ago and attended the sheriffs' orientation together.

"He was a good friend; we worked together on a lot of cases between Calhoun and Orangeburg County," Summers said. His death is "going to be a big loss to Orangeburg County law enforcement."

According to state election law, if a vacancy occurs more than one year prior to the next general election for sheriff, the governor must appoint an acting sheriff. That individual will hold the office until a special election is held.

Howard Jackson, Orangeburg County Voter Registration & Elections director, said Williams' current term will end in 2012.

"A primary must be held before the special election," Jackson said. "The primary will be held on the 11th Tuesday following next Tuesday (Sept. 28). The special election will be held on the 18th Tuesday."

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