Forest Acres honors officer slain 40 years ago

brantin@thestate.comFebruary 21, 2014 

— Richey O’Brian Finch’s services to the Forest Acres community still echo throughout the area, 40 years after his death..

Just two months after graduating from the Criminal Justice Academy, the Forest Acres police officer was shot and killed during a routine stop along Forest Drive the night of Feb. 21, 1974.

About 100 people from Forest Acres and surrounding communities gathered Friday to mark the 40th anniversary of the incident with a memorial ceremony officially naming a stretch of that same highway in Finch’s honor.

“Today, we pay tribute to one of our own police officers who was killed in the line of duty,” Forest Acres Police Chief Gene Sealy said to the packed courtroom at the police department that came out to acknowledge the only death of an on-duty officer in the city’s history.

Finch, then 25, was shot during the stop in the 4600 block of Forest Drive between Willingham and Gamewell drives near Cardinal Newman High School.

City leaders and others said it was important that Finch’s services not go unrecognized.

“Here we are 40 years later to bestow honor upon Richey Finch,” Sealy said. “He gave the ultimate sacrifice while carrying out his duties and working to protect the community.”

Finch was born in Spartanburg, moved to Columbia when he was a child and attended the former Dentsville High School. He initially came to Forest Acres in the water department before becoming a police dispatcher and eventually a road officer.

But it was the latter calling, family members said, that became his greatest passion.

“He was doing what he wanted to do best,” said Finch’s brother, Gary Finch, who was joined by his two other living siblings, Eddie Finch and Judy Pruitt, and several other family members Friday. “He loved it.”

Richey Finch was part of a string of family members to serve in law enforcement. Gary Finch was the first full-time police chief of Irmo, and his son Bill Finch is a deputy with the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department.

“The law enforcement community has never forgotten him,” Bill Finch said. “This community immediately took me in, too. It just shows the strength of the law enforcement family.”

That support was evident Friday as family members of the fallen officer were surrounded by scores law enforcement officers, local and state lawmakers, former and current judges and city officials, former city administrators and others.

In addition to the law enforcement officers from various agencies – among them Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews – about a half-dozen former officers who served with Finch came to pay tribute.

“It brings back a lot of memories,” Gary Finch said of the gathering.

Family members of former Kershaw County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Potter, who was killed in the search for the three suspects in Finch’s killing, also were recognized Friday.

All three suspects eventually were taken into custody.

The day’s ceremony concluded with the unveiling of the Officer Richey O’Brian Finch Roadway sign that will be erected on the section of Forest Acres where he died. The resolution was read by Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, who sponsored the bill that received unanimous approval.

“The family thanks the city of Forest Acres for remembering,” Gary Finch said.

Reach Rantin at (803) 771-8306.

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