(Reuters) - West Virginia investigators searched on Thursday for a motive in the shooting death of a sheriff killed as he ate lunch in his vehicle, and his alleged attacker remained in critical condition after being shot by police.
The suspect, Tennis Maynard, 37, of Ragland, West Virginia, has been charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder in the Wednesday shooting of Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum, 59, who was killed in his police SUV in Williamson.
The shooting occurred amid a heightened awareness of attacks on U.S. law enforcement officials after two prosecutors in one Texas town and the Colorado prisons chief were killed in apparent targeted attacks this year.
Crum, a former magistrate, took office as sheriff at the beginning of the year vowing to crack down on drug trafficking. He and a local task force made 50 drug-related arrests in February.
Police said that after Crum was shot on Wednesday, Maynard fled the scene and crashed his car after a high-speed chase, and a sheriff's deputy shot him several times when he pointed a pistol at him.
Maynard was airlifted to a hospital, where he was in critical condition but was expected to survive, state police spokesman Sergeant Michael Baylous said.
"He's still on a ventilator and we have not been able to talk to him," he said.
Investigators have not specified a suspected motive for the shooting. Asked if it was related to Crum's crackdown on prescription-pill trafficking, Sheriff's Department Corporal Norman Mines said it was possible.
"But we're not going to focus on one motive," said Mines, the officer who shot Maynard.
He said Maynard spoke briefly after being shot, but Mines and Baylous said the comments were mostly garbled.
The suspect's father, Melvin Maynard, told WSAZ-TV in Huntington on Wednesday that his son had developed mental problems after being exposed to chemicals on a job in Alabama, and had no vendetta against police.
The state police said a .40 caliber Glock handgun thought to have been used to shoot Crum was recovered at the crash scene. The Mingo County Commission appointed Crum's widow, Rosie, interim sheriff.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund said 28 officers had been killed in the line of duty in the United States since April 3, 2012, including 13 killed with firearms.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington and Lee Mueller; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Beech)