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Bill to honor fallen UHP troopers with highway signs passes House

Published: Friday, Feb. 24 2012 3:03 p.m. MST

Utah Highway Patrol trooper Lynn Pierson's widow, Darlene Pierson Evans, thanks UHP Sgt. Troy Denney at the Utah State Capitol on Friday, February 24, 2012. Officer Pierson died in the line of duty in 1978. Utah lawmakers unanimously passed a bill to erect highway signs honoring 14 Utah Highway Patrol troopers who have died in the line of duty.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Daughters of slain Utah Highway Patrol trooper Lynn Pierson wore buttons Friday with a photo of their father in his tan wide-brimmed "Smokey Bear" hat under the words: Our Fallen Hero.

Motorists throughout the state may also soon recognize Pierson's sacrifice along with the sacrifice of 13 other troopers who died in the line of duty.

Pierson's widow, Darlene Pierson Evans, and his children stood on the Utah House floor with more than a dozen troopers as lawmakers unanimously passed a bill to erect highway signs honoring the 14 men. The signs also will serve as cautions to drivers to slow down.

"It's great to know that they're not forgotten," said Clint Pierson, now a Garfield County sheriff's deputy.

A robbery suspect shot Lynn Pierson to death when the officer pulled him over on state Route 20 in Garfield County in 1978. Pierson was 29.

Evans called the tribute "wonderful." She had young children and was pregnant when her husband died. They are now grown with children of their own. "I want them to know what their grandfather did," she said.

Recognizing fallen UHP troopers has been mired in controversy since American Atheists Inc. sued the Utah Highway Patrol Association in 2005 over memorial crosses it placed on public property. An appeals court ultimately ruled the roadside crosses were an unconstitutional display of religious imagery.

The UHPA removed the markers earlier this year. It is refurbishing them and intends to relocate them on private property in the next couple of months.

The idea for the new signs came from UHP Sgt. Troy Denney, who said a light bulb just went on in his head one day. He said he was surprised no one thought of it before.

"To me, it's such an easy fix to a lawsuit that cost who knows how much money," he said. "I really don't think there will be any backlash."

Denney brought the idea to Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, who sponsored HB182, which now goes to the Senate for consideration. Wilson said the signs would serve as a memorial as well as encourage driver safety. Last year, 21 troopers were injured while out on the road.

The Utah Department of Transportation and Department of Public Safety will determine locations for the signs near the areas where the troopers were killed.

The signs — 4 feet by 9 feet on the interstates and 3½ feet by 7 feet on state roads — would say something such as "It's the law. Slow down. Move over. In memory of Trooper John Smith." The top half would resemble a speed limit sign, while the memorial piece would be blue.

UDOT has said it is neutral on the bill because the estimated $20,000 to make and erect the signs is not in its proposed budget.

"This means a lot to all these guys in brown and the men and women who are out there and it means even more to the families," said Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, a UHP trooper.

Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Ogden, said he joined the UHP in 1976 and remembers the day Pierson died.

"I will never forget that. I went to his funeral," he said, noting Pierson also served Vietnam. "I'm acutely aware of the suffering that happens not only with the families but with the highway patrol."

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com Twitter: dennisromboy

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