Honoring a fallen officer

Published 10:21 pm Thursday, September 24, 2015

Suffolk received a grim and terrible reminder this week that every time a police officer puts on his uniform, he or she is embarking on dangerous business.

The Officer Down Memorial Page (www.odmp.org) lists 95 line-of-duty deaths for law enforcement officers this year. Among them, sadly, is Virginia State Police Trooper Nathan-Michael W. Smith, a Suffolk native and 2005 graduate of Nansemond River High School.

Smith died Monday when his Ford Taurus patrol vehicle crashed in Prince George County, while he was responding to what he believed was a trooper in distress at another crash scene, according to a press release from the state police.

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A trooper responding to the scene of the original crash had radioed dispatchers for emergency assistance. When Smith and other troopers heard the call over their radios, they mistakenly interpreted the situation as a trooper in distress, state police officials have said. In Smith’s rush to provide aid to a fellow trooper, he crashed into the woods along the Interstate 295 south exit ramp to Interstate 95 north in Prince George County.

Smith’s death was a terrible loss to the Virginia State Police, to those who knew him in Suffolk and to his family, especially his wife and two children. Unfortunately line-of-duty deaths like his are not unusual in the law enforcement community in the United States, as attested by the fact that there has been an average of about one every three days this year. That Smith’s is Virginia’s first this year may owe as much to providence as anything else.

Vehicular accidents — including aircraft accidents, officers struck by vehicles, vehicular assaults, motorcycle accidents and vehicle pursuits — have accounted for 38 of this year’s deaths, which makes them the deadliest factor in line-of-duty demise. Gunfire follows, having caused the deaths of 27 officers, according to the records kept at the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Whether by gunfire or vehicle accident or some other cause, the loss of a public servant sworn to protect other citizens is a harsh blow to a community. Because of the very nature of their jobs, these men and women will never be completely safe from danger, and society owes a debt of gratitude to them and to their families for the fact that they do those jobs even in the certain knowledge of the potential dangers they’ll face.

That debt is further compounded when the potential danger becomes real, when it results in the loss of a husband or wife, a father or mother, a son or daughter.

Today, as his family prepares for Trooper Smith’s burial on Saturday, we honor him for his service, while recognizing his family for the sacrifice they have made on behalf of the citizens of Virginia. May they find peace in this time of unbearable grief.