They called him “Longhair” because he rocked a mullet that rivaled Billy Ray Cyrus.
In some ways, the late 1990s felt like the peak of Master Deputy Brandon Collins’ 21-year career with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department. At least that’s how he felt sometimes, he told his longtime partner and friend Jesse Valdez.
Shortly after joining the Sheriff’s Department in 1995 from a job in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Valdez and Collins started doing undercover work for the special investigations division. The unit was tight knit, made up of “the best of the best” and Collins excelled.
He could make anyone feel comfortable, Valdez pointed out, criminals, law enforcement. Didn’t matter. Collins had charisma.
The pair, Valdez said, also took great pleasure in looking the part.
“That included growing our hair out...we had to buy chain wallets and we had to wear Pantera T-shirts,” Valdez said, and a somber crowd mourning the fallen deputy began to laugh.
Law enforcement units from Kansas and Missouri and the family and friends of Collins’ gathered Thursday in Olathe to celebrate the life of the Johnson County deputy and family man who loved going on “rock-n-roll road-trips” with his friends and spending time with wife, Traci, and daughters, Ashlee and Lily.
Collins died early Sept. 11 when a drunk driver smashed into his patrol car while he was conducting a traffic stop. The vehicle was engulfed in flames.
He was 44. Hours before, he had celebrated his daughter’s fourth birthday.
Born Dec. 13, 1971 in Drumright, Oklahoma, Collins was a die-hard OU fan who respected anyone who could hang in conversation about all things crimson red.
In 2010, Collins met Lee Roy Selmon — when Valdez had a chance to meet the Football Hall of Famer at a game at Arrowhead Stadium. Collins was so excited he brought a “little red Oklahoma football helmet and a silver pen.”
“I just saw his face light up when he introduced himself to Lee Roy,” Valdez told an audience of several hundred people at the College Church of Nazarene.
Collins, many said Thursday, had an antagonizing sense of humor.
Play poker with Collins and he’d smile at his cards and say “This game is eassssyyyyy.”
He had a propensity for coming up with nicknames and delivered them flawlessly, Deputy Ross Capps said. Felony Melony. Fred the Fed. Jean Genie. Maverick. And those are just the appropriate ones.
In addition to his job — which led him to serve in several capacities for the Sheriff’s Department, from court services to special investigations to the patrol unit, where he last worked — he harbored two other loves: for rock-n-roll and for family.
He attended rock shows both near and far with family and friends. He taught himself to play guitar, and then bought an amplifier, to make it easier to be heard, pastor Daniel Vanderpool joked.
At his funeral, two of his favorite bands were played, and those who came to pay their respects listened to aching lyrics and screaming guitars in both “Say Hello 2 Heaven,” by Temple of the Dog and “The Funeral,” by Band of Horses.
“Music bound us together,” Capps said. “It tied us at the hip. It was the source of so much joy and camaraderie for us.”
Though sometimes he may have longed for the “long hair days” as an undercover detective, Collins enjoyed his shifts back on the patrol, his colleagues said, especially the time it afforded him to hang out with his wife, girls and other family members.
He drove to Oklahoma to catch his nephew’s football games. He recently took daughter Ashlee to her first concert — the Rolling Stones at Arrowhead stadium.
“He was a professional in every aspect of his chosen career,” Sheriff Frank Denning said to Collins’ wife, Traci, at the service. “He was a great husband, he was a good father, but he was also a good friend to many of you and to us and he always had you and the children first in his thoughts.”
Later, Capps would try to describe the man’s sense of humor and work ethic.
“People who met him,” Capps said. “Were almost instantly in love with him.”