BLYTHEWOOD | Twelve-year-old Megan Rao doesn't remember her dad, a South Carolina trooper who was killed 10 years ago as he helped a stranded motorist. But she is grateful that his fellow officers and the rest of the state remember his sacrifice.
Megan came to the Department of Public Safety headquarters Friday for the dedication of a memorial to the 50 state troopers who have died in the line of duty since the Highway Patrol was organized in 1930. Her dad, Michael Rao, is the ninth name in the third column.
She smiled as friends of her father told stories about him. She held a picture of his white cross grave marker with the police dog named in honor of him lying beside it. She posed for pictures with his old partner.
Megan's grandmother, Lois Rao, was with her.
“He was a real hero,” she said of her son. “This was bittersweet, absolutely bittersweet. It's hard for a mother, you know? But I'm so proud and so glad all of these men are being remembered.”
Being a South Carolina trooper is a dangerous job. State troopers account for nearly one in five of the officers killed in the line of duty since the Highway Patrol was organized in 1930, yet troopers represent just one out of every 15 law officers in South Carolina.
“The role of a state trooper is a difficult journey indeed. The side of the road, the grassy median are your office. You do not get out of the pouring down rain or the heat or the cold. Beyond those inconveniences, there is always uncertainty for those who serve and those families at home,” said Highway Patrol Commander Col. Michael Oliver just before the black granite monument was unveiled.
The names of the fallen troopers etched into the monument take up less than half of the marker's surface. The first to die on duty, Ralph McCracken, was killed in 1931 when his motorcycle hit a mail carrier in Fairfield County. The last name – for now – is Kevin Cusack, killed when his cruiser crashed while on patrol in Lancaster County in 2010.
In between are men like David Bailey, killed in a Greenville County crash while chasing a suspect in 2000; Richard Woods, shot to death by a burglary suspect he pulled over for speeding in Beaufort County in 1969; and Arnold Carter, who died when he was struck by a car racing other vehicles in Williamsburg County in 1956.
“Some of them gave their lives during a traffic stop. Some of them lost their lives by a cold-blooded murderer. All of them deserve this fitting tribute,” Department of Public Safety Director Leroy Smith said.
The memorial owes its existence to the work of trooper Bob Beres, who decided in 2010 there needed to be some reminder of his colleagues who gave their lives. Beres organized a 24-hour run that raised more than a third of the money needed to pay for the memorial. The rest came through donations, many of them spurred by Beres' work.
Some smiles accompanied Friday's somber ceremony, as families of the fallen troopers traced their relatives' names or posed for pictures.
Friday was a good day for Lois Rao. She fights for victims' rights and to make sure law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty are remembered throughout the state. The man driving the pickup truck that killed her son on Interstate 95 was only given five years of probation because he was 77 at the time of the wreck and had medical problems.
“This is just so special,” Rao said. “I know these 50 men aren't forgotten, but it is so nice to see this memorial and know they will always be remembered.”