ARLINGTON, VA (WWBT) - A grassroots effort is underway to rename a bridge to honor Virginia State Trooper Jacqueline Vernon, who, in 1988, became the first female and first African American state trooper in Virginia to be killed in the line of duty.
That grassroots effort now has a powerful endorsement. About 30 people made the trip to Arlington and took up a big section of the county's boardroom. Vernon's classmates from decades ago, current troopers, friends and family all support a memorial that they say is overdue.
The Virginia State Police Association says memorials are not necessarily meant to mourn death but to celebrate life. The group of people who traveled to appear before the Arlington County board was impressive, and the significance of that vote wasn't lost on Vernon's family.
"It warmed my heart when I looked around and saw so many people out to support the resolution, Vernon's brother Ron said."This is real now. She was part of Virginia and she made a difference."
Vernon was one of eight women in the 73rd class of troopers taking the oath. She graduated in 1984, at a time when some of her male comrades resented women wearing the badge. Friend and classmate Brenda Stokes said, "They weren't ready to accept black women, white women, any kind of women. They weren't ready to accept no kind of women. But, we stood the ground and stayed. We all opened doors for others."
The women troopers say they bonded and helped each other but nothing prepared them for a classmate's end of watch.
Classmate Leslie Macafee said, "I'd known her for a while. And to have her gone like that… It's very hard for new people to have your coworker cut down like that."
Vernon, 33, was four and a half years into her career when she was hit by a bus while writing a ticket on August 16, 1988. Everyone who knew her says she loved her work and wanted to be first in everything. She was Gary, WV's first woman police officer. VSP recruited her, and in four years she won 11 commendations.
Arlington County officials selected a bridge on Interstate 395 at Glebe Road, as the best location for a memorial site. It's the closest location to where Vernon died.
Former Trooper Ann Gordon worked with Vernon and says she avoided I-395 after her coworker was killed.
"I came through there today, and the next time you come hopefully? I'll be looking at the bridge," she said.