Judge Diane Wheeler swears in new Trimble County Sheriff Charles Kelton. (Staff photo by Phyllis McLaughlin/pmclaughlin@madisoncourier.com)
Judge Diane Wheeler swears in new Trimble County Sheriff Charles Kelton. (Staff photo by Phyllis McLaughlin/pmclaughlin@madisoncourier.com)
It was a bittersweet moment Tuesday when District Judge Diane Wheeler swore in Charles Kelton to serve as Trimble County sheriff.

Kelton, who has been the Kentucky State Police trooper assigned to Trimble County for more than 17 years, succeeds Sheriff Tim Coons, who died last week after a long battle with cancer.

Before administering the oath of office, Wheeler reflected on Kelton’s work with KSP.

“He’s been known to tell many a young trooper, ‘Don’t disgrace the gray uniform.’ I have no doubt he feels the same about the brown uniform” of the Sheriff’s Office, she said to a courtroom packed with county officials, and family and friends of Kelton and Coons.

“A sheriff in a small town is so much more than a figurehead, or collecting taxes or serving papers. It’s being a friend; and sometimes your friend tells you when you do something really good, and sometimes your friend has to tell you when you do something really bad. Charlie Kelton can be that kind of friend,” Wheeler said. “Judge Powell has shown great confidence in this appointment here today, and we should all support and help (Kelton) as he tries to help this office heal and help this community heal.”

“I’ve got huge shoes to fill,” Kelton said. “We’ll get it done. It may not be the Tim Coons way, but it’ll get done. ... I can’t explain how big an honor this is.”

After swearing in Kelton, the judge swore in his deputies: Dale Ralston, Glen Powell, Dennis Sharon, Tom Starks, Lonnie Gullion, Tim Wakefield, Barry Welty, Greg Ford, Guy Gene Cutshaw, Jamie Hubbard, Jerri Scott and Vickie Butler.

Starks, the school resource officer, is the only full-time member of the force. The rest are part-time certified deputies and special deputies, who have limited duties.

After the ceremony, Kelton discussed his relationship with the late sheriff as a trooper working in Trimble County.

Coons was elected after Sheriff Denny Long retired after serving from 1994 to 2002.

Kelton said he had worked with the Longs for several years and recalled being a bit miffed at Denny’s decision to leave office.

But soon, Kelton said, he and Coons “became great friends. ... We were two peas in a pod; we bounced ideas off each other.”

In fact, before his health problems became evident, Coons had planned to serve out this term and one more four-year term; Kelton then was going to retire and run for the office.

“Life throws you lemons, you make lemonade,” he said.

Originally from Owensboro, Ky., Kelton moved with his family to Oldham County in 1979, graduating with the first senior class at South Oldham High School in 1990.

He signed up for the Kentucky Air National Guard 11 days after graduation and went through security police school. In 1998, he was hired with the Shelbyville Police Department and completed the Division of Criminal Justice Training program.

He was hired by KSP and attended its training program and was assigned to Post 5 and Trimble County.

“The rest is history; I’ve been here ever since,” Kelton said.

Over the years, he has been called to active duty with the National Guard, serving 13 months at Scott Air Force Base in St. Louis following 9/11 and later was called to serve an eight-month tour in Louisville. In 2010, he served another eight months in Bagram, Afghanistan.

He is in his 28th year with the Air National Guard and has attained the rank of chief master sergeant.

Though well-prepared for the law-enforcement part of the job, Kelton said he has a lot to learn about being an administrator, particularly handing the county’s tax collection and vehicle inspections.

“The tax thing I know nothing about, I’ll be honest with you,” he admitted. But he is counting on Vickie Black, who has worked in the office since 1972, to help him learn that part of the job.

Kelton lauded Coons for bringing his department from one full-time deputy and full-time sheriff to a larger staff of part-time deputies. And he wants to do more.

“I’d like to get a second-shift guy to help handle complaints,” serve papers and offer extra-patrol requests, he said.

But, basically, Kelton said his goal is to help the department get back to where it was before Coons took medical leave.

“I look at what he’s built, and I just want to continue what he’s done.”