By Jesse Wood
July 27, 2012. Deputies William Mast Jr. and Preston Russell were partners, who came on the force at the same time nearly four years ago. They were best friends.
Mast was 23 and Russell 27. Their wives were close, too – both expecting children within five days apart – and the two deputies were looking forward to taking a vacation together with their burgeoning families in October.
But in the middle of the night on Thursday, July 26, both deputies responded to the 911 call in Deep Gap that ended with Mast fatally wounded.
After Watauga County 911 Communications Center received an open call at 12:50 a.m., in which no one hung up but no one was on the line, Mast and Russell jumped in their patrol call and headed towards 2130 Hardin Road, arriving at a mobile home off a gravel road by 1:04 a.m.
Within minutes, Mitchell Allen Trivette, who lived on Hardin Road, shot Mast and Russell fired back. Both Mast and Trivette were dead on arrival at the emergency room of the Watauga Medical Center.
Aside from the fact that a shootout occurred, what transpired and any other details have been kept under wraps during the ongoing investigation.
There has been speculation that this was a domestic dispute call and/or perhaps an ambush from the suspect. Sheriff Len Hagaman told Steve Frank of WATA 1450 yesterday that a shotgun was retrieved from the scene of the crime. Hagaman added that Trivette was “not unknown” to the Sheriff’s Office. In 2003, Trivette was charged with communicating threats, and nothing has indicated that he was capable of such egregiousness. Also, it is not known if drugs or alcohol played a role, and no motive is known, yet.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, “Upon arriving at the scene he began walking towards the house when he was shot in the face. It is believed the subject who shot him intentionally ambushed him.”
And Russell’s father Bud Russell, said the two deputies were “concerned going into this call.”
It is not known, yet, where Trivette was positioned when the patrol car arrived at 2130 Hardin Road. Nor is it known what Mast and Russell were talking about during that ride to Deep Gap. Likely, though, when the patrol car turned on Hardin Road, the two weren’t thinking about that vacation – their minds focused on the task at hand and the potential scenarios before them.
Dan Harmon, who is retired, was a deputy with Watauga County for two years and a member of the Highway Patrol for 28 years. Many a times he made that midnight run not knowing what lies ahead at the scene of the call.
“When you [drive up to] the house, you are thinking about the lay out of the land, the terrain of the house, how it is sitting and what kind of cover you can find, where someone can be hiding to get you, whether someone is in the house or not, the lighting, can you be seen, all those things are running through your mind,” Harmon said.
“When you get to the house, you have to make the assessment of what’s going on, what noises you can hear, what you can smell – whether you smell cigarette smoke or someone’s perfume. All those things, you’re using all of your senses to figure out what’s going on around the house. Once you make your assessment and figure that maybe no one outside the house is waiting on you can probably approach the house and tell them law enforcement is present.”
In an open line or 911 hang up situation, Harmon said there are two scenarios that are likely to play out. Either it’s a medical situation where someone became incapacitated during the call or “somebody is setting you up for an ambush type of situation, where you are going to that house but don’t know the nature of the call,” he said.
“It sounds like they responded well, really.”
The N.C. State Bureau of Investigation took over the investigation in the middle of the night on Thursday, and aside from releasing the names of the individuals involved – Mast, Russell and Trivette – SBI Spokeswoman Jennifer Canada would not comment or provide further details because of the ongoing investigation.
‘He Was My Best Friend’
Aside from riding many patrols with each other, Preston Russell and Mast spent most of their free off-the-clock time together – either around the house with family or swinging clubs on the golf course.
“He was one of my best friends,” Russell said. “He was one of the best people I know – hard working, loving to his family and did everything with respect and did it to the fullest of his potential.”
Aside from playing golf, Russell said that Mast enjoyed hunting, fishing, four-wheeling and riding horses – “you name it he did it.”
Mast was married to Paige Geer Mast and both were expecting a baby boy to be named William Hunter Mast.
“He was very excited about being a father. He talked about it all the time,” Russell said. “He was very much looking forward to fatherhood.”
“I’m extremely sad for his family and can’t express that any other way. Total shock for his family and heart broken,” he said.
‘A Class Act’
Judging from the dozens and dozens of Facebook posts on his wall, Mast was such a well-liked person in the community.
A graduate of Watauga High School and all-around stand-up guy, he has always stood up for those in need.
“William was a great guy. When we were in high school, he never made fun of anyone and even joined in when others were. I guess that’s why he was a [deputy]. He was kind and thought about other people and their feelings,” a former high school mate posted.
Mast was a God-loving man who attended Bible Way Baptist Church.
“He was a believer,” Bud Russell, who is the pastor at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, said.
“Preston never had anything but great things to say about him. That was universal around the community. Everyone knew him to be a class act – very passionate, small in stature and mighty in the heart and spirit. Anybody in the business would be willing to get into the trenches with Will because he had your back. He was a great friend, and he was just a young champion.”
Funeral services for Mast will be conducted Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m. at Mount Vernon Baptist Church. In lieu of flowers memorials may be made to the William Hunter Mast Scholarship Fund, in care of Highland Union Bank, 1013 NC Hwy 105, Boone, N.C. 28607.
Mr. William Ronald Mast, Jr., age 23, of Hwy 421 South, Boone, passed away Thursday morning, July 26, 2012. Born August 16, 1988 in Watauga County, he was a son of Angela Gail Wall and William Ronald Mast, Jr. William was a Deputy with the Watauga County Sheriff’s Department and a member of Snow Lodge #363 AF & AM.
He is survived by his wife Paige Greer Mast, his unborn son; William Hunter Mast, his mother; Angie Wall all of Boone, his father; Bill Mast and wife Debbie, one brother; Brandon Mast all of Zionville, his maternal grandmother; Willa Mast of Randleman, his maternal grandfather; James Wall of Boone, his paternal grandparents; Mr. & Mrs. Hal Mast of Zionville, two step-sisters; Jessie Wagoner of Vilas and Ashley Farthing of Zionville, his mother and father in law; Sharon and Jerry Greer of Boone, and a number of aunts, uncles and cousins.
Funeral services for Mr. William Ronald Mast, Jr. will be conducted Tuesday afternoon at 2 o’clock at Mount Vernon Baptist Church. The North Carolina Highway Patrol Caisson Unit will provide transportation to the church. Officiating will be Rev. Michael Greene and Rev. Derek Wilson. Masonic graveside services and burial with law enforcement honors will follow at the Mast Family Cemetery. In lieu of flowers memorials may be made to the William Hunter Mast Scholarship Fund, in care of Highland Union Bank, 1013 NC Hwy 105, Boone, NC 28607.
The family will receive friends Monday evening from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. at Mount Vernon Baptist Church. Online condolences may be sent to the Mast family at www.austinandbarnesfuneralhome.com.
Austin & Barnes Funeral Home & Crematory is serving the Mast family.