Local News

Highway Patrol celebrates new troopers after losing three veterans this year

Posted November 16, 2018 5:28 p.m. EST

— The State Highway Patrol has had a rough year, from deaths in the line of duty to hiring problems. But the patrol had reason to celebrate Friday, as 14 troopers graduated from the training academy.

The four-month training program is notoriously tough – 25 cadets were initially in the class – but what comes next could be even tougher.

"We've dealt with a great deal of loss," Col. Glenn McNeill, the Highway Patrol's commander, said during the ceremony. "Any time you lose three North Carolina troopers in six months, it's devastating organizationally."

The crowded auditorium paused for a moment of silence Friday to honor Trooper Samuel Bullard, who was killed in a crash during a pursuit in May; Trooper Kevin Conner, who was shot during a traffic stop in October; and Trooper Benjamin Wallace, who died of a heart attack this month.

To put the year into perspective, 65 Highway Patrol troopers have died in the line of duty over the last 90 years.

McNeill said the cadets attended Conner's funeral, and the patrol streamed their graduation ceremony on Facebook so Conner's wife and family could watch. Conner's wife sent McNeill a text after the ceremony to thank the patrol for keeping her husband's memory alive.

"It's our duty and responsibility to honor the families, but most importantly, to honor their legacy," McNeill said. "We won't let their deaths be in vain."

Gov. Roy Cooper thanked the new troopers – 12 men and two women – and their families for being willing to serve the public in an increasingly dangerous job. Being a trooper, he said, is not a career – it's a calling.

"Every day they step out, they're putting their lives on the line. They never know what might happen," Cooper said. "It just shows us that we need to attract the best and the brightest. We need to make sure that they have adequate pay and retirement but also proper training and equipment."