Monday, February 11, 2008

Bill would name stretch of highway to honor Ziegler

Bill would name stretch of highway to honor Ziegler
By LEROY SIGMAN\Daily Journal Staff Writer

A bill has been introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives by State Rep. Dan Ward, D-Bonne Terre, to name the stretch of U.S. 67 between Leadington and Desloge in honor of a St. Francois County deputy sheriff who was fatally injured in a traffic accident there nearly three years ago.

If the legislation is adopted, that stretch of U.S. 67 between Highway 32 and Highway 8 will be named the "Deputy Steven R. Ziegler Memorial Highway."

Ziegler was in his patrol car heading south on U.S. 67 on the morning of Sept. 29, 2001, when a utility trailer broke loose from a northbound sport utility vehicle. The trailer slammed into Ziegler's car. The 32-year-old officer died the following day at St. John's Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis.

Before he ever became a road deputy, while still a jailer for Sheriff Dan Bullock, Ziegler was given the nickname "Chachi." It came from a character on the old television series "Happy Days" and stuck with him after he became a road officer.

Ziegler was the father of four children. His wife and children became the first in our county to benefit from the recently formed St. Francois County chapter of the Backstoppers. That is an organization that provides financial assistance and moral support to the survivors of law enforcement officers and firefighters who die in the line of duty.

Ward said he feels it only appropriate that the stretch of highway on which Ziegler was fatally injured be named in honor of the officer. There has already been significant support for the proposal from within the community.

There has also been legislative support shown for the measure. Seven other lawmakers have joined Ward as cosponsors of the bill. Included in those are State Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, and State Rep. J.C. Kuessner, D-Eminence.

In order to gain further support, or at least lessen the opposition based on fiscal reasons, a provision in Ward's bill calls for the costs to be paid through private donations. He said the Missouri Department of Transportation has indicated the signs needed to designate the highway in Ziegler's name will cost about $800.

Already, Ward said Sunday night, one fraternal organization has indicated it will make a substantial donation toward those costs. He said Bullock also suggested organizations connected to his department, such as the St. Francois County Sheriff's Association, will probably be more than willing to raise money for the signs.

The bill has been assigned to the House Transportation and Motor Vehicles Committee, but no hearing date has been set. It was only two weeks ago that Ward filed the bill and he said it may come up for hearing in the committee sometime in early March.

Ward is confident the bill will be approved and quickly added, "If it doesn't go through, I will be raising the roof down there." He was referring to the State Capitol.

Generally, bills such as this one draw little opposition in the General Assembly so long as outside funding covers the cost of the signs. Ward said this is a positive way of paying respect to an officer who has made the supreme sacrifice.

"I think it is a great idea," Bullock said of Ward's bill. "There is not hardly a day that someone in the department does not say something in regard to Steve. Despite all the joking and ribbing, he was one of best officers this department has had."

Even at age 32, Ziegler looked much younger and took a lot of kidding from fellow officers, including the sheriff. At the same time, he was a "take charge" kind of officer who would not shy away from any situation and one that other officers wanted with them in virtually any situation.

Bullock recalled that Ziegler pestered him for three years to hire him and when he put Steve on as a reserve deputy Ziegler worked more hours than his full-time officers.

"I had reservations about him when he started," Bullock admits, "but he proved me wrong and turned out to be one of my best officers."

At Ziegler's funeral, Rev. Alan Berry said, "Steve represented what's good about this country ... what's good about America."

The respect fellow officers had for Ziegler was reflected in the fact that more than 200 law enforcement vehicles were in the funeral procession.

Ziegler is not the only law enforcement officer for which such an honor has been proposed. A stretch of Interstate 55 in Perry County has been named the Trooper Jimmie E. Linegar Memorial Highway. The Highway Patrol trooper was killed 19 years ago during a routine traffic stop on I-55.

Ward said he will also be introducing a bill to honor another fallen officer with local ties, Trooper Jesse R. Jenkins.

Jenkins, who had lived in Desloge, was killed on Oct. 14, 1969, in the office of Montgomery County Sheriff Clarence Landrum by a man they had arrested the previous night. While the sheriff was on the telephone, Robert M. Thomas grabbed the sheriff's gun. Jenkins and Thomas exchange gunfire and both suffered fatal chest wounds.

At age 29, Jenkins had been a trooper with the Highway Patrol for two years at the time of his death. He left a wife and two sons.

It is Ward's intention to propose that the stretch of U.S. 67 between Desloge and Bonne Terre be named the Trooper Jesse R. Jenkins Memorial Highway in honor of the fallen officer.

The lawmaker could not say exactly when that bill will be introduced. As with the bill honoring Ziegler, Ward said he would like to have some public support lined up to cover the cost before proceeding with the measure.
Updated Monday, Feb 23, 2004 - 10:48:36 am CST

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