Survivors take plunge to honor fallen officers

First Posted: 4/14/2011

MAXTON Twenty-seven people took a leap of faith at the Laurinburg-Maxton Airport on Wednesday to honor fallen police officers.

With the help of the U.S. Army Parachute team, the Golden Knights, 15 survivors many of them widows who lost their husbands in the line of duty and 12 fellow officers jumped in tandem teams from 2.5 miles high.

When you start to look at law enforcement and the military, they lose officers in action just like we do, said Sgt. Maj. Stephen Young, senior enlisted officer of the Golden Knights. This is the least we could do to honor them.

Police officers are here on the home front taking care and protecting our families, so that we can go out there and do what we do.

The idea for the Jump of a Lifetime event began when Young met Dana Moody Shriver, who lost her fiance, Deputy Joseph C. Rodgers, of Florence County Sheriffs Department, just before their wedding nearly 15 years ago. The chance meeting occurred at an airshow in Florence, S.C.

He asked if she had ever considered skydiving.

I told him not a chance, Shriver said. Then he asked if I would consider doing it to honor Joey, because they knew Id do anything for his memory.

In November, Shiver and two other survivors jumped with the Golden Knights. The experience helped her cope with her grief better than anything she had tried before.

I was living in constant fear, Shriver said. I would come home and lock my door and check it 15 times. People always say, That wont happen to me. Well, it happened to me. Joey was murdered.

When I left the plane in November, I was a new person, she said. Now I only lock and check the doors once.

Shriver, along with Young, organized the two-day Jump of a Lifetime that gathered survivors and officers from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

After hazardous winds and weather conditions postponed the jumps from Tuesday, Wednesday brought calmer winds and sunny skies ideal for plunging out of an airplane.

Before the jump, the participants get a 20-minute lesson on equipment and safety. They then suit up in the gold and black flight suit and harness. Their Golden Knight tandem partner packs their parachute in a large black backpack. The participants jump in teams of three, each with a tandem partner and a videographer to capture their fall. They all climb into the Havilland Twin Otter airplane and take off.

The plane circles the airport, which serves as the Golden Knights training facility, until it reaches about 13,000. A Golden Knight checks the wind speed on the ground and gives the green light if gusts are below 20 mph.

During the free fall, a person travels at about 120 mph until their parachute is pulled open a mile above ground. It takes between three to five minutes from the time they leave the plane until they touch the ground.

First out of the plane was Sgt. Marvin Prince, of the Georgia State Patrol. He was honoring Trooper Chad LeCroy Badge No. 744 who was killed during a traffic stop in December. LeCroy was the state patrols first officer fatally shot in the line of duty since 1976.

I still havent been able to find the words to describe the experience, Prince said. Once you get over the fear of stepping out of a perfectly good, flying airplane, everything else is just a rush.

Prince, who trained LeCroy, jumped with the officers wife, Kiesha.

Mark Delage, a sergeant for the Tampa Police Department in Florida, traveled to Maxton with Kelly Curtis, wife of fallen Tampa officer David Curtis.

We are a family, Delage said. And we will do anything to honor their service. We werent going to let her do this alone.

About a dozen N.C. State troopers showed their support for Liane Stocks, of Garner, and Col. Micheal Gilchrist, commander of the state Highway Patrol, as they jumped in honor of Andrew J. Stocks.

The important thing here is that A.J. gave his life for the citizens of North Carolina and this was the least we could do support his wife and all fallen officers, Gilchrist said.

The Golden Knights, stationed at Fort Bragg, is the only Department of Defense sponsored aerial demonstration team, which was formed in 1959 to compete against the Russian parachute team. The team travels around the U.S. and the world preforming demonstrations at air shows and sporting events. They also compete in national and international competitions.

Tracie Hewitt, of Asheville, jumped with the Golden Knights and Shriver in November and came back Wednesday to do it again in honor of her late husband Sgt. Jeff Hewitt, of the Buncombe County Sheriffs Office.

You have so many fears when you lose your spouse, Hewitt said. Making this jump, it reminds you that you can make it and creates a renewed strength in you.

Im the closest I can be to Jeff when Im up there. And I know hes watching over me.

Staff writer Ali Rockett can be reached at (910) 272-6127 or [email protected]

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