TAMPA — Few have seen Hillsborough County crime like Sgt. Stephen Cribb.
He was among the first on the scene after Billy Ferry walked into a Winn-Dixie supermarket in 1983, pitched a bucket with 4 gallons of gasoline into a crowd of shoppers and employees, and set fire to them. Five people burned to death; 13 were maimed. Cribb helped bring Ferry to justice.
When fear gripped the area as serial killers Bobby Joe Long and Oscar Ray Bolin Jr. murdered victims, Cribb was among the detectives who hunted both men. He helped bring them to justice, too.
The first teenage deputy in the Sheriff's Office, Cribb has responded to many calls. But Monday, the accomplished officer won't be reporting for duty. He's retiring after 35 years.
"They told me not to say anything unless it was nice," Cribb told a crowd of about 40 who had gathered to honor him Friday at the District 2 headquarters, "so I'm done."
It was a brief speech fitting of a witty man who isn't much for words. Instead of a grand address, Cribb's opted to mingle with friends. They aren't so muted.
Maj. Bill Davis, District 2's commander, has served with Cribb for 30 years.
He called Cribb an astute detective. Once at the site of a homicide, officers were tracking shoe marks. Cribb noticed a man in the crowd wearing tennis shoes that matched the prints and he turned out to be the killer.
Cribb supervised detectives, a position where many said he acts more like a mentor than a boss.
"He doesn't teach by telling you how to do it," said Cpl. Frank Cruze, who works under Cribb. "He let you learn it, and he was right there to guide you."
His team even shared meals. A favorite: his wife Patty's lasagna.
"I'm Italian, so we cook and eat all the time," said Patty, who attended Friday's party. She's known Cribb since he was a young deputy chasing her outside the grocery store where she worked as a teenager.
For 20 years they dated. Nine years ago they wed — she's not sure what took him so long — and six years ago, they welcomed baby Hannah into the family.
Opportunities to rise in the ranks have cropped up before. But accepting a lieutenant's rank would have meant moving back to the midnight shift, and time away from Patty and Hannah.
While Cribb plans to pursue other employment, he will now have more time with his family. Patty will worry less about his safety. And Hannah will be pretty happy, too. After all, daddy's coming home.
Staff writer Steven Overly can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3435.