Delaware Road bridge named for trooper

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 20, 2008

COURTLAND—Fresh on the minds of police honoring the memory of Robert A. Hill Sr. on Tuesday was the fact of just how dangerous it can be to work as a trooper with the Virginia State Police.

As they participated in a ceremony dedicating a Southampton County bridge to Sr. Trooper Hill, dozens of troopers, family members and local government and transportation officials remembered the tragic day when Hill was struck by a passing vehicle and killed while working a traffic stop on Route 58.

For the troopers in attendance, though, the lesson about the danger inherent in their line of work was even fresher than the memory of the accident that claimed the life of their fallen comrade.

Just a little more than 30 hours before Tuesday’s dedication ceremony, a state trooper finishing his paperwork after a traffic stop was struck by a passing tractor trailer on Interstate 81.

Trooper P.C. Gardner barely had time to jump across his front seat into the passenger side of his car before the truck hit the driver’s side of his vehicle, according to a VSP press release on Monday.

Gardner was the fourth trooper to be struck by a passing motorist during the past three months.

Trooper Hill was killed on the day after Thanksgiving in 2006 while conducting a traffic stop on Route 58 in the southwest portion of Southampton County.

He had been a trooper for 19 years and was well known throughout the area for his compassion and generosity, having started and spearheaded a program of Christmas donations to children in Southampton’s Head Start program.

Since his death, a local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police has been named in his honor, and co-workers have continued some of the most visible community service projects he had become known for locally.

Delegate Roslyn C. Tyler (D-75th) sponsored legislation in the General Assembly earlier this year that was aimed at giving Hill a high-profile memorial that would be seen by thousands of people every day.

The Delaware Road bridge over Route 58 between Franklin and Courtland is located in one of Southampton’s most heavily traveled corridors. It now boasts signs bearing Hill’s name that are visible from both Delaware Road approaches and from both directions on Route 58.

&uot;My hope is that when citizens pass these signs, they should never take for granted that we have these courageous officers,&uot; Virginia Secretary of Public Safety John Marshall told the crowd.

Speaking to the troopers attending the ceremony, he added, &uot;My hope is that you will remember Robert, and that you will remember how important your work is and that you make a difference.&uot;

Calling Hill a &uot;true local hero&uot; who &uot;cared deeply about his work [and] cared deeply about his community, Marshall challenged other public safety officers to emulate his example of &uot;always giving back to his community.&uot;

Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, the Virginia State Police superintendent, said the signs would pay &uot;a lasting tribute&uot; to a man who &uot;recognized that his calling in this life was to protect and serve.&uot;

Flaherty said he was pleased to be honoring Hill but found it &uot;difficult to relive&uot; the circumstances surrounding his death.

&uot;This was a man, a husband, a father, a son, a brother … who is never to be forgotten,&uot; he added.

Officials presented replica signs to Hill’s wife and children at the end of the ceremony.

Melissa Hill held the hand of her young daughter Melia during the speeches, and she and her son Robert Jr. flanked the sign that was unveiled at the end of the ceremony. The family greeted a long line of well-wishers at the end of the ceremony but made no public comment during or afterward.