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Published: Wednesday, 10/20/2004

Lima police chief was ex-Marine

LIMA, Ohio - Kermit Lester Westbay, 99, police chief here in the 1940s and 1950s, died of acute renal failure on Sunday at his daughter's home in Plantation, Fla.

Mr. Westbay retired in 1954 after eight years as chief and 23 years with the department, his daughter Marina Jo Jett-Swaney said.

During his time as chief, he squabbled with the mayor and City Council. "He took it in stride because he knew he was in the right," Mrs. Swaney said.

She said he would go along with whatever council said, then do what he wanted to do in the first place. "Council was on him all the time," she said.

In 1947, Mr. Westbay was demoted to patrolman twice, the second time for wrecking a police car in a collision with a milk truck at more than 80 mph. He was restored to chief both times.

Former police Chief Frank Catlett, who joined the department three years before Mr. Westbay retired, said he was a good boss. "I think he was a good fellow," he said.

His daughter said he initiated time off in lieu of overtime pay and had showers installed in part of the jail.

He also helped raise donations for a school for disabled children, Mrs. Swaney said.

On Oct. 12, 1933, he was working at the police station when three men sprung gangster John Dillinger from the Allen County jail, shooting and killing the sheriff in the process.

Mr. Westbay went to the jail and freed the sheriff's wife and a deputy who had been locked in a cell.

He was an FBI special agent from 1942 to 1943, working in Kentucky and Minnesota.

After he left the police department, he worked for the National Detective Agency in Columbus, his daughter said.

After 16 years, he retired. He moved to Florida in 1973.

Mr. Westbay was born in Cridersville, Ohio, the oldest of eight children. After finishing eighth grade, he worked with his father in an oil field in Illinois. He joined the Marines at age 18 and served in Nicaragua and Haiti, where he drove, cooked, and baked for a general.

He was honorably discharged as a corporal in 1927, and that November married Mary Moyer, whom he met on a ride at a fair while home on leave. His new father-in-law suggested he join the police department.

Mr. Catlett said Mr. Westbay had a zest for living and enjoyed everything he did.

Surviving are his wife, Mary; daughters, Marina Jo Jett-Swaney and Corrina Jane Arnett; brother, Vernon Westbay; sister, Edna Fisher; seven grandchildren; 19 great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday in the Chamberlain-Huckeriede Funeral Home, Lima, where the body will be after 6 tonight, with a Masonic service at 8 tonight and an F.O.P. service at 8 p.m. tomorrow.

The family suggests tributes to FOP Lodge 21 or to Grace United Methodist Church.



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