Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sutphin memorialized during event he started

The annual law enforcement memorial service honored Cpl. Eric Sutphin, security guard Derrick McFarland and other officers killed in the line of duty.

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CHRISTIANSBURG -- As bagpipes played, the sidewalk in front of the Montgomery County Courthouse became a sea of brown uniforms, freshly shined black shoes and somber expressions.

It was the third time the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office had hosted its annual law enforcement memorial service as part of National Police Week.

But this year was different. Deputies were memorializing one of their own.

In fact, Sheriff Tommy Whitt told the crowd that attended Monday's morning's 40-minute service on the courthouse lawn, it was Cpl. Eric Sutphin's idea to begin holding an annual memorial.

When Sutphin came to him with the idea, Whitt told him a memorial was a great idea but he didn't know if he'd have time for it.

No problem, Sutphin had responded. All the sheriff had to do was show up and Sutphin would tell him what to do.

Monday, Whitt told Sutphin's widow, Tamara, that he'll never be able to express the loss the sheriff's office has felt since Sutphin was fatally shot the morning of Aug. 21 as he searched for an escaped Montgomery County Jail inmate.

That inmate, William Morva, is charged with capital murder in Sutphin's death as well as in the death of Derrick McFarland, a Montgomery Regional Hospital security guard who was fatally shot the day before.

Though he wasn't a law enforcement officer, McFarland also was memorialized Monday, along with two Christiansburg police officers killed in the line of duty: Scott Hylton, who was shot in 2003, and Terry Griffith, who was shot in 1994.

Sutphin had been injured by gunfire as he came to Hylton's rescue in May 2003. He was awarded the state's Medal of Valor for his efforts.

On Monday, state Del. Dave Nutter, R-Christiansburg, read a resolution in honor of Sutphin, who had been a law enforcement officer for 13 years in several Virginia jurisdictions and also spent seven years as a military police officer in the U.S. Army.

State Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, read a resolution in honor of McFarland, who died while trying to help a deputy who'd been knocked unconscious at the hospital, reportedly by Morva.

State Secretary of Public Safety John Marshall read the names of each Virginia officer killed last year and the date each reached his or her "end of watch."

Of the 10 Virginia officers killed in 2006, seven died as a result of gunfire. Two more died in vehicle crashes and one had a heart attack.

Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard perform a 21-gun salute at the 3rd Annual Police Officers’ Memorial Service held in front of the Montgomery County Courthouse on Monday morning.

Alan Kim | The Roanoke Times

Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard perform a 21-gun salute at the 3rd Annual Police Officers’ Memorial Service held in front of the Montgomery County Courthouse on Monday morning.

The state has lost one officer this year. Campbell County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Saunders died in a car crash as he pursued a vehicle early last month.

"Those we honor today did not become heroes the day they died," Marshall said.

Instead, he said, they became heroes the day they raised their right hands and pledged to serve as a law enforcement officer.

To do so, he said, "takes courage, a special kind of courage" that few people possess.

Marshall told the officers who attended Monday that the best way to honor their fallen comrades "is by continuing to do what you do."

Sutphin, he said, "continues to ride with you on patrol, and through each one of you, Cpl. Eric Sutphin continues to make a difference."

After Marshall spoke, officers from the sheriff's office, the Virginia State Police and the Christiansburg, Blacksburg and Virginia Tech police departments placed a wreath made of red, white and blue flowers on the courthouse lawn.

Officers stood at salute as bagpipes played "Amazing Grace." A 21-gun salute followed.

Smoke still hung in the air as Whitt solemnly told the crowd that as long as we live in a free society, officers will be lost doing their jobs.

"We would certainly love to look up someday and realize we haven't lost an officer anywhere in this nation," he said. "But we know that's not going to happen."

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