Dozens pay tribute to fallen officer

Bob Rich, a retired Indiana State Police officer, speaks about the life of his late brother, ISP Master Trooper Detective David Rich during a memorial service on Wednesday, July 5. Photo by Joseph Slacian

By Emma Rausch

There are moments that define a generation.

“The older generations remember where they were when President (John F.) Kennedy was assassinated. A group of folks remember exactly where they were when 9-11 hit.

“For this crew here their JFK assassination, their 9-11 was the day David Rich was killed,” Bob Rich, Rich’s brother, told a crowd gathered at the corner of Manchester Avenue and Wabash Street Wednesday, July 5.

Wednesday marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Indiana State Police Master Trooper Detective David Rich and the day did not pass unnoticed in Wabash.

Dozens of Wabash County residents joined local and state law enforcement officers Wednesday morning at the David Rich Memorial Park to remember Rich as a son, father, husband and officer.

Rich lost his life on July 5, 2007, after stopping to assist a motorist that looked in need. He was the “epitome of what a police, father and husband should be,” Mayor Scott Long, a former Wabash Police officer, told the crowd.

“He made each and everyone one of us on the Wabash Police Department do the job a little bit better,” he said. “He and I solved a few cases together over breakfast and Arby’s as did other officers of the department. It was always a pleasure to speak to him.”

To this day, Long remembers Rich in every day occurrences.

“A lot of times, (Rich’s death) seems like it was just yesterday,” he said. “There are many things in the community of Wabash that reminds me of Dave. I still remember the mornings at Rock City Café. If I see somebody bring their kids in, that reminds me of Dave. If I see a shiny, immaculate, red four-wheel drive pick-up truck, that reminds me of Dave.”

Since 2007, the Wabash community has kept his memory alive, according to Doug Carter, Indiana State Police superintendent.

Rich’s character was “a testament to the Rich family and a testament to Indiana trooper,” Carter told The Paper of Wabash County.

“He’s going back home, he’s in plain clothes and in a plain car,” he explained. “It would have been really easy for him just to drive by, but that’s not in the Rich DNA. He stopped and I think that he likely changed the world that day, and I’m really proud of him and I look forward to seeing him one day.”

The park, located at the corner of Wabash Street and Manchester Avenue, is one of four tributes dedicated to Rich in Wabash County. A baseball park in Mexico was also renamed in his memory.

“Of course we knew his family and friends would never forget Dave, but what’s really awesome is how the community of Wabash hasn’t forgotten,” ISP Sgt. Jan Maller said. “People still come up to me and ask me what Dave was like or they tell me stories about Dave, and that’s Wabash.

“It’s a small town. It’s what a small town should be, it’s what a small can be and it’s what a small town has been. It hasn’t forgotten one of its own.”

Wabash’s support of the Rich family is rare and appreciated, he continued.

“This is a cool community,” Carter said. “Very seldom do you see a point like this (Manchester Avenue and Wabash Street corner) dedicated to someone like him, and I’m really proud of that. It doesn’t happen all over, but it’s rural Indiana and in rural Indiana, we take care of each other and (Wabash) is a testament to that.”

While friends and family gathered for the memorial service, 16 law enforcement officers and paramedics trekked 16 miles along U.S. 24 through the 85-degree heat from the Peru Post to the site of Rich’s death as a memorial in action.

Joe Swisher, an ISP master trooper, began the walk as a personal pilgrimage four years after 2007.

“First we used to ride motorcycles,” Swisher told The Paper. “There is a group of us that would meet at the post and we’d ride from there to the site on (U.S.) 24 and after that we’d go to the cemetery and Connie would be there and we’d say a prayer, and then it just kind of dwindled.”

Afterward, Swisher said he became inspired by a movie called “The Way” to walk the road from the Peru Post to the memorial site in Rich’s memory.

“So six years ago, I just started walking as a personal pilgrimage,” he said.

In 2016, Swisher completed his walk, but fell ill with heat stroke moments after he reached the U.S. 24 memorial site. That’s when other first responding officers found out and decided to join him the walk.

“It was a personal journey,” Swisher said. “It still was today (July 5). It was just tremendous to have all the people there with me. You do the walk with whatever you bring and each person has a different experience along the way, and it’s to remember Dave and think about things. It gives you a lot of time to reflect walking down the road.”

Swisher was joined by Indiana State Police officers Mike Tomson, T.J. Zeiser, Dan Prus, Mike Meiser, A.J. Coffee, Adam York, Wendell Beachy, Andrew Smith, Mario Cruz, Taylor Roth, Doug Weaver; Wabash County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Tyler Guenin; Wabash Fire Department members Ryan Rosen, Andy Oswalt and Rick Evinston. WFD Chief Barry Stroup drove a fire truck to assist the walkers as they traveled along U.S. 24.

Guenin said it was an honor to be a part of the walk and support Swisher.

“It’s a brotherhood,” Guenin said. “It takes a special type of person to be willing to go out and do this job on a daily basis and, for those that truly care, you know that you may not potentially go home and see your family at the end of the day, but you’re willing to sacrifice for those of the community and just for the greater good.

“Like I said, I was very glad that we could support Joe … and help him remember Dave.”

While it may be coincidence, Swisher added that there are aspects of the walk that are too eerie to be accidental. The Peru Post is ISP District 16, which is exactly 16 miles away from the site where Rich died and, with the addition of 85-degree weather on Wednesday, the journey reminded Swisher of Rich’s radio number, 16-85.

“Every year, Dave’s always shown something that supported what I was doing, encouragement and such,” Swisher said.

While the memorial efforts are appreciated, Maller told the audience that “Dave would be so humbly embarrassed by everything that’s transpired since his death … but he’d proud.”

“He’d be especially proud of (his wife) Connie (and children) Lauren, Carson and Connor,” he continued. “That was his life. His family Jack, Linda, Bob and Kim, Kathy, nieces and nephews, that was his life.”

Rich’s widow, Connie, thanked the community for their support throughout the years.

“Wabash is great and my husband was great,” Mrs. Rich told The Paper. “I know everyone said that (at the memorial service) but he truly was the best. … Thank you (Wabash) for providing safety in my community and providing safety for my kids.

“Thanks for everything that everyone has done to keep his memory alive.”

Bob Rich offered a piece of advice for those wishing to act in Rich’s memory.

“Do what you do,” he said, “and make the world a better place for Dave.”

Posted on 2017 Jul 11