On Your Side: Honoring a fallen state trooper 26 years later

ARLINGTON, VA (WWBT) - A vigorous push to honor a fallen Virginia State Trooper 26 years after her death.

Trooper Jacqueline Vernon was hit by a bus while working a traffic stop back in 1988.  She was the first female - and the first African American - state trooper killed in the line of duty.

Despite those distinctions, there's no bridge or stretch of road to honor her service. Her family is asking, why not?

Some say Trooper Vernon was from West Virginia and there just wasn't a charge to rally the community. Others say it's because she was black and female.

The Virginia State Police Association says there's nothing covert going on and it wants to give the family peace of mind that a roadside memorial could happen with next year's General Assembly.

People were shocked to see a female step out of a cruiser back in the 1980s, but Trooper Jackie Vernon was unshakeable, even when her male comrades told her she wasn't worthy to be a State Trooper, says her brother Ron Vernon.

"That made her work harder," said Ron Vernon. "She loved her job. She had a lot problems when she first started. People saying you are only here because they needed somebody to fill a slot. They needed females to fill a slot."

Trooper Vernon took the oath with the Class of 1984. VSP had a mandate then to hire more women. Ron says they recruited his sister hard.

Gary, WV's first female police officer became a trooper and won 11 commendations in four years.

A bus hit her as she was writing a ticket on Interstate 395.

26 years later, Virginia's first black and first female trooper killed in the line of duty has no roadside memorial.

"As some of the other troopers said, not to be named, if she had not been female and black, this would have happened a long time ago," said Ron Vernon.

"I think it's a shame that all of these Troopers haven't been memorialized," said Wayne Huggins with the Virginia State Police Association.

60 troopers made the ultimate sacrifice and Huggins says only eight have memorial bridges or roads today. 

"We don't see black and white," said Huggins. "We see blue and gray. We are all blue and gray to the core."

Some memorials come sooner because the community rallies to make it happen, and others much later mainly because there's no one process in place for line-of-duty deaths.

There is a memorial wall at State Police headquarters and no strict policy outside that, but Huggins says Trooper Vernon will be memorialized. He now has the support and commitment from Arlington legislators.

"I'm glad that it's finally being done, but, at the same time, color has nothing to do with the delay, absolutely nothing to do with it," said Huggins. "We will never ever forget you, whether you were killed 76 years ago or this year... and we will never forget your family."

Huggins says he's doing all he can to make it happen and it should next year. Arlington officials have now identified a memorial site - the Glebe Road Bridge, which crosses 395 near the fatal crash site. Trooper Vernon's brother is elated.

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