Franklin County Sheriff Jim Karnes died on Thursday at age 71, just over a month after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Karnes died at about 12:30 p.m. at The Ohio State University Medical Center, 10TV News reported.
Karnes was the longest-serving sheriff in Franklin County history. He turned a division that was rife with low morale and political squabbles into a model of public service.
"(Karnes) called them like he saw them," said Franklin County Commissioner Paula Brooks. "He's honest and we appreciate that because - above all else - in your law enforcement, you want honesty."
At 6 feet 4 inches tall, "Big Jim" Karnes was hired as a deputy in the corrections division in 1963, progressing through the ranks to the top job as sheriff.
Hard working, hard charging and not one to suffer fools easily, Karnes ran the sheriff's office by the book. He suspended and fired deputies who violated the rules, but defended others who took heat for enforcing them.
"He's a family man, first and foremost," said Franklin County prosecutor Ron O'Brien. "He treats the sheriff's office as his expanded family and that's why he's been a successful sheriff."
Tirelessly community-minded, Karnes gave time to the Children's Hospital Foundation, the March of Dimes, the Red Ribbon Campaign, Buckeye State Sheriff's Association and the school drug prevention program called D.A.R.E.
"He's been a great sheriff," said Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman. "He's also been a great father, a great husband, a great leader this community in many ways."
Karnes worked to build solid relationships with other law enforcement agencies throughout central Ohio, especially on solving crimes that crossed jurisdictions.
Admirers said that Karnes had a gift for being able to get divergent law enforcement agencies to work together to solve crimes. From special drug task forces to organized crime operations, he knew the power of teamwork.
On April 26, Karnes announced to his staff that he had pancreatic cancer, but he planned to continue his job while undergoing treatment.
Karnes' 48-year career was commemorated on May 13 when the Franklin County Commissioners dedicated and renamed a building in his honor.
The Franklin County Annex Building, located at 410 S. High St., was renamed to mark Karnes' longtime service to the county. Karnes was too weak to speak at the ceremony. Although aggressive cancer treatment sapped his strength, it took nothing away from the powerful leadership he brought as sheriff.
"You (have) sheriff's office people in (the annex building) -- City of Columbus, the FBI -- Jim has been able to work with all those people over the years, so from a law enforcement standpoint he's done a phenomenal job and Franklin County is in a great position because of it," said Franklin County Commissioner John O'Grady.
Karnes is survived by his wife, Sandy, of more than 47 years. He also had three daughters, five grandchildren and a law enforcement family.
Funeral arrangements were pending.
Watch 10TV News and refresh 10TV.com for additional information.
May 13, 2011:
Franklin County Building Named In Honor Of Karnes
April 26, 2011: Franklin County Sheriff Karnes Treated For Pancreatic Cancer