The family of Bradley County Chief Deputy Wayne Bird has confirmed his health condition is terminal. Bird is under hospice care.
He was placed on medical leave from the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office March 14, according to Sheriff Jim Ruth.
According to his brother Doug Bird, he was very recently diagnosed with melanoma and has travelled with his wife to Florida to be with his children and grandchildren.
Wayne Bird began his law enforcement career as a deputy sheriff in Orange County, Fla., when he was 21 years old. He rose through the ranks, eventually becoming a commander in the department, then chief of detectives.
“He worked for a number of departments during his career as well as having a small business. Wayne continued to work, providing investigation privately for an insurance company,” Doug Bird said.
He then returned to Cleveland in the late 1970s and attended the Church of God School of Theology. He also worked at Ellis Hall at Lee College. He attained a master of science degree in Christian Ministries while at Lee.
He returned to the Orlando, Fla., area for a number of years and in the 1990s, came back to Cleveland and worked a number of undercover operations, according to his brother.
He was responsible for helping solve a case against Larry Ogle, who was convicted of killing his wife and son, then burying their bodies in a barn on the family property.
“Chief Bird has been invaluable to me personally and to our agency in organizing a well-trained, well-led, well-developed Sheriff’s Office to fight and prevent crime,” Ruth said last week after announcing Bird was on medical leave. “I could not have made a better choice for chief deputy.”
According to Doug, his brother had some previous history with skin cancers.
“Wayne, 71, is a fit person and maintained a healthy workout routine,” said Doug.
“He thought he had strained a muscle in his back, went to a Cleveland doctor and after further diagnosis and biopsy, on to Vanderbilt for possible treatment,” Doug explained.
“He found out that he had melanoma and it was progressed,” he added.
A new drug showed hope for the chief deputy, but according to Doug, the melanoma had advanced and Wayne’s health has failed in just a few short weeks.
Ruth described Bird’s years as a professional lawman as being an “exemplary career in law enforcement.”
He was recognized by three Florida governors for his work in fighting organized crime and political corruption, Ruth said. He was involved in various high-profile cases, including one that involved the mayor of Dade County, Fla., who was on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list for murder and drug charges.
Ruth said Bird was also instrumental in investigations that eliminated drug cartels in Florida and Georgia.
According to the information provided, Bird commanded multi-agency task forces for both drug trafficking and organized criminal conduct, as well as serving two times as coordinator for a statewide grand jury investigating drug trafficking and organized crime.
Bird also played roles with the federal task force.
“Wayne is a deeply spiritual man who, throughout his long, distinguished career as a professional lawman, has kept his testimony as a faithful husband, father and grandfather,” Ruth said.
“For the last 3 1/2 years, while serving as Bradley County’s chief deputy, he has also worked in the food ministry of the Cross Pointe Church in East Cleveland where he cooked and served the community every Sunday.”
“He was always quiet about what he did,” said Doug, noting that Wayne had done so up until he left for Florida after his diagnosis.
Ruth added, “His friends and associates at the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office will greatly miss his huge contribution to keeping the citizens of our community safe.”
“We appreciate all the prayers from the Bradley County community and continue to ask for prayers in the days ahead,” Doug said.