People lined the streets of Scottsbluff Thursday, all to pay tribute to fallen Nebraska State Patrol Trooper Jerry Smith.
Smith, 51, of Scottsbluff, died on Thursday, June 20, while in the line of duty. He was on patrol near Bridgeport, when his vehicle was struck nearly head-on by another driver in a three-vehicle collision.
Area residents answered the call to line the streets of Avenue B and W. 27th Street as Smith’s procession traveled to Western Nebraska Community College, where services were held in the gymnasium.
Robin Parnell, an emergency medical technician who had met Smith on scenes, said, “This is my way of helping out Trooper Smith and his family today.”
Nebraska Patriot Guard Riders and other volunteers made sure that the procession route was lined with flags. Ron’s Towing and the Scottsbluff Fire Department both erected large flags that were flown above the crowds.
Military veteran Kent Holmes joined the flag line as part of the American Legion Riders from Post 36 in Gering.
“It’s sad this had to happen,” he said. “As both a veteran and a trooper, Jerry served in more ways than one. We’re here to see a brother go in peace.”
Ian Robbins was also there to pay his respects along with the Alliance American Legion Riders.
“I’m here to honor a trooper who made the ultimate sacrifice for all of us,” he said. “We’re here to give our thanks, even when this is sometimes a thankless job.”
People, young and old, were among those remembering Smith. Scottsbluff and Gering softball teams were among the people in the crowds.
Telera Kinsey, a member of the Scottsbluff softball team, said that the team felt that it was a significant thing to do.
“It’s important to honor a hero, what he did and what he sacrificed for us so I could be out here today,” Kinsey said. As the procession went through, it became quiet, with only the sounds of car motors being heard as the hearse carrying Smith’s body passed. Smith’s family and troopers with the Nebraska State Patrol were among the head of the procession and law enforcement officers from agencies throughout the country, from New York to California, followed.
Steve Thomlinson, a captain with the Patriot Guard, said that the riders consider all heroes, first responders and veterans to be family so they come out to show their respect.
“Their job, especially police officers, is very important for us to show them that we do honor them. Every day they are out working. We appreciate them keeping the rest of us safe.”
Parents, grandparents and others brought children to demonstrate respect for Smith and other heroes.
Beth Phelps, of Minatare, brought her two grandchildren, Parker Geisler, 5, and Tyce Spady, 10, to highlight the symbolism of patriotism. She said her grandson’s father is a Marine and has served two tours in Iraq, like Smith, who was recognized with a Bronze Star and served 25 years in the U.S. Army.
The procession was a culmination of shows of support for Smith and his family throughout the week. In front of the funeral home that arranged Smith’s services, a Nebraska State Patrol vehicle became a makeshift memorial from Monday to Wednesday. People topped the car with U.S. flags, flowers and other items.
Flags and blue ribbons were also placed along Avenue B, 27th Street and Highway 26.
Among those placing flowers was 13-year-old Natalie Teppert, who decided to place flowers Wednesday at Dugan-Kramer Funeral Chapel.
“I was sad and emotional when I heard the news,” the girl said, saying she wanted to pay her respects to Smith. “They (law enforcement) do what they’re supposed to do to keep us safe.”
In a press release, the Nebraska State Patrol extended gratitude to all who have sent support and asked that the entire state continue to keep Smith’s family in their thoughts and prayers.
Star-Herald reporters Preston Goehring, Jerry Purvis, Jamie Rose Chen and Lauren Brant contributed to this report.