The Ohio Turnpike and Col. Paul Pride, superintendent of the state Highway Patrol, led a dedication ceremony for a sign in memory of Trooper Robert Perez Jr. at the Milan post.
Perez died May 15, 2000 — three days after being injured when his cruiser was hit from behind by a minivan on the turnpike in Erie County near U.S. 250. Randy Cole, director of the Ohio Turnpike and Commission Infrastructure, said the driver was high on amphetamines and going 83 mph.
“Watch for cars,” Cole told the large crowd, repeating what he told his son who will be joining the police academy.
Perez was 24 and a lifelong resident of Lorain. He was commissioned as trooper in early April 1999 and assigned to the Fremont post. Lopez later transferred to the Milan post, which oversees part of the turnpike.
Pride said Lopez will be remembered for his willingness to help others, dedication to his job and his “never-ending smile.” Also, the patrol superintendent said the trooper served with “great pride, dignity and honor.”
Family friend Craig James said Perez “loved his life of service” and emphasized helping others.
Perez was the 34th trooper killed in the line of duty.
“We continue to wear our uniforms proudly,” said Pride, echoing the challenge the Perez’s mother made to the patrol at her son’s funeral.
The Perez memorial sign, which reminds drivers to move over for first responders and stopped vehicles, will be located at milepost 121 in Erie County.
“Please be respectful. Please be responsible. Move over and slow down; our lives depend on it,” Pride said.
In October, the turnpike commission authorized a program to honor 12 men who were killed while on the job in nine separate incidents since 1967. Pride said the signs should be a “pointed reminder” about the risk that officers take every day “without any hesitation.”
On Friday afternoon, the turnpike and patrol held a similar dedication ceremony in memory of Norwalk resident Carl Kermit Starkey. The 46-year-old turnpike mechanic was killed in 1978 when a train hit him at the Middle Ridge Road railroad crossing while he was in a work vehicle. Starkey, a former Reflector pressman, worked at the Amherst maintenance building for 12 years.
Perez’s sister, Amanda Owsley, of Westlake, said having a sign dedicated to her brother’s memory hopefully means that such a tragedy won’t happen again.
Jim Bond, commander of the EHOVE Career Center police academy, brought many cadets with him to experience Tuesday’s ceremony. Bond, who recently retired from the Monroeville Police Department after 27 years, said he hopes the students will see first-hand what sacrifices their comrades in law enforcement make and the importance of driving safely.