Audrey Way became a widow when her police officer husband, Tony, was killed in the line of duty 28 long years ago, but on Thursday night it was clear North Charleston has not forgotten.
Way and her extended family arrived at City Hall in a convoy of police cars escorted by motorcycles with blue lights flashing, for a ceremony posthumously honoring Patrolman Tony Way with a Medal of Valor. In prior years the city named a road for Way, and his portrait hangs in the Police Department’s squad room. Way is the city’s only officer killed in the line of duty.
“It still blows me away, how much they care,” said Audrey Way.
North Charleston was by most accounts a rougher place in 1985, and police didn’t wear body armor as they do today. Tony Way, an Air Force veteran and the son of a state trooper, had been on the city police force for about a year. Audrey Way was a nurse, and their son Justin was nearing his second birthday.
It was nearly the end of patrolman Way’s shift on Feb. 18 when someone triggered the burglar alarm at Rose’s Hideaway. Way was riding with another officer, patrolman H.D. Poole, because Way’s patrol car had broken down, so together, they responded to the bar on Rivers Avenue.
What followed led to criticism of the way bond requirements were being reduced at the time due to jail crowding, calls to equip police with body armor, and grief for Audrey Way and her family.
When officers Way and Poole arrived at Rose’s Hideaway around 2 a.m., they saw a man running from the closed bar, and Way pursued him on foot as Poole drove around the building to cut off the man’s escape route.
Then, Poole heard multiple gunshots.
He found Way and Gerald Wayne Smoak on the ground near the rear of Rose’s Hideaway, both mortally wounded. Smoak died at the scene, struck by six bullets, and Way died at a nearby hospital.
“I can remember elements of that as if it were yesterday,” said Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon, who was North Charleston’s police chief when Way was killed. “I stood in the operating room at the Naval Hospital as they cut his uniform off and tried to save his life.”
“Of course, it was a devastating event for the department,” Cannon said.
Way’s killer, Smoak, had been arrested while burglarizing the same bar 12 days earlier, stealing hundreds of dollars in quarters from video machines. Police used a dog to capture him when he ran. Two days after his arrest, Smoak posted $500 and got out of jail.
Smoak was a 37-year-old father of three with a long history of breaking-and-entering arrests, but no record of violent crime. But after what would be his last arrest, police say Smoak wanted retribution and set up an ambush at Rose’s Hideaway.
Audrey Way said in the months that followed, their son Justin couldn’t understand where his father had gone. They moved to Summerville, but returned to visit their old apartment so that Justin could see that his father was not there, where he’d last seen him.
“People would tell him ‘daddy’s with Jesus,’ but he couldn’t understand that,” Audrey Way said.
She became a founding member of Concerns of Police Survivors, a group that aims to help the families and co-workers of fallen officers. She continued working as a nurse, and never remarried.
On Thursday night, she thanked the throngs of police assembled in City Council chambers for remembering her late husband, and told them that she constantly thinks of them and the dangers they face.
“I want you all to know we don’t forget about the people who are living,” she said.
The presentation of the posthumous medal coincides with the start of National Police Week, on Sunday, which honors fallen law enforcement officers nationwide.
“You need to know that Tony will never be forgotten by the city of North Charleston,” Mayor Keith Summey told the family.
Justin Way, just a toddler when his father was killed, is now a 30-year-old with a 6-year-old daughter. Thursday night on the way to City Hall in the police motorcade, she was allowed to sit up front and play with the siren.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.
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