Fallen Trooper Shaft Hunter Memorialized on I-95
"There are still heroes among us who are willing to give themselves for others." —Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Marcus Brown
Trooper First Class Shaft Sidney Hunter had a personality larger than life, according to those who memorialized him Friday by dedicating a highway sign in his name on Interstate 95.
Hunter, 39 and the father of six, attempted to stop a motorcycle at approximately 2:40 a.m. on May 21, 2011, when his patrol car ran into a tractor-trailer parked on the shoulder of I-95 south near the Welcome Center by Route 32.
A witness told police that a motorcycle passed his vehicle "at a high rate of speed" and it was followed by a marked police car, which, moments later, crashed into the tractor-trailer in the fatal collision.
Hunter had been with the Maryland State Police 11 years.
On Friday, the State Highway Administration placed signs on northbound and southbound I-95 to memorialize Hunter at the scene of the crash.
"Signs identify exits, they provide direction...and above all...convey messages that are intended to keep us safe," said Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Marcus Brown during a memorial ceremony at the Waterloo barracks in Jessup.
"This sign will communicate a message more important than any other sign in the highway," continued Brown. "It will remind the thousands each day who see it that there are still heroes among us who are willing to give themselves for others."
Hunter's personality was "larger than life," said Brown, who noted that it was an "unusual opportunity" be permitted to erect a highway sign on I-95, where messages are limited to critical communications. "The service of TFC Hunter warrants such a privilege," said Brown.
As colleagues recalled their memories of Hunter, their eyes teared and voices cracked upon mentioning his name.
"When he backed me up several times on traffic stops...he struck an intimidating pose, until he approached me and saluted and was no longer able to hide that four-foot wide smile that I'm sure you all remember," said Lt. John Zeller, who knew Hunter from the Maryland State Police Academy, where he said Hunter was named president of his class.
Hunter was described as a man who left the impression of a leader on all in his path.
A captain in the U.S. military from 1994 to 2000, he joined the Maryland State Police in 2000, and was nominated in his first year for the Baltimore Sun's "Police Officer of the Year" award. That year, after a van landed in the Middle Patuxent River, Hunter rescued another trooper and the civilian driver by rappelling down an embankment.
"We hire the bravest men and women to keep us safe," said Howard County Executive Ken Ulman at the May 11 memorial ceremony in Jessup. "Things that might seem to the rest of us as routine are dangerous, and that's what happened in this case. This sign will be another memory, as folks drive on 95, to remember...the service of Trooper Hunter."
Hunter was also selected to be on legislative duty during the 2010 Maryland General Assembly's regular session, and several members of the the Howard County Delegation and Maryland legislature were in attendance at the memorial on Friday.
"He was the honor man," said Delegate Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany County, who got to know Hunter during the 2010 session.
"He never told me that he was trooper of the year at the Waterloo barrack," said Kelly. "He never told me the International Police Chiefs Association nominated him as national trooper of the year or that the American Legion nominated him for law enforcement officer of the year. He didn't tell me any of that, and you know why? Because he was just one humble guy, a humble professional."
Between remarks from Hunter's colleagues and the unveiling of the highway sign, the song "I Look to You" by Whitney Houston was heard through the speakers set up in front of the Waterloo barracks.
As the sign was unveiled, sadness appeared to ripple through the audience, with many moved to tears.