Lawmen killed in crash remembered

Wednesday, September 6th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DEL CITY, Okla. (AP) -- Officers came from all over the country to help the Oklahoma City law enforcement community bury two of its own, a task made harder by back-to-back ceremonies.

"No city ought to ever have to go through a funeral service for a fallen hero and certainly no city should have to go through two in one day," Police Chaplain Jack Poe said to several thousand mourners at the Tuesday afternoon funeral of Oklahoma City police officer Jeffery Dean Rominger.

"These have been some tough roll calls lately. They're not here, but we know where they are, they're accounted for. They're in the kingdom of God," Poe said of Rominger and Trooper Matthew Scott Evans, who both died five days ago in a fiery crash on Interstate 40.

Rominger was chasing a car driven by Patrick Kiplinger as it drove east in the westbound lanes of Interstate 40. Evans wasn't aware of the chase and his cruiser collided with Kiplinger's car after the car struck a tractor-trailer rig, killing Evans, Kiplinger and Kiplinger's 15-year-old nephew, Martin Hughes, who was a passenger in the car. Rominger died when his car slammed into the wreckage.

Earlier in the day, highway patrol troopers, sheriff's departments, state police and other officers from Tennessee, California, Michigan, Arkansas, Louisiana, Arizona and across Oklahoma stood in formation as pallbearers wheeled Evans' casket into First Southern Baptist Church.

Poe, who wiped tears from his eyes during Rominger's eulogy, remembered the 42-year-old Long Beach, Calif., native as "the `old man' who could do just about anything better than anyone else."

Rominger retired from the Navy in 1996 at the rank of chief petty officer. Although he was the oldest member of his 1998 graduating cadet class, Rominger won the top physical fitness award, a feat Poe said was proof of his commitment.

"You can tell a lot about a person by what he's committed to,"

Poe said.

At the cemetery, Rominger's mother, Shirley, wept openly, often putting her arms around Rominger's 9-year-old son, James, of Jacksonville, Fla.

As Oklahoma City Police Chief M.T. Berry presented the American flag to her, Ms. Rominger stood and embraced him.

At Evans' funeral, Public Safety Commissioner Bob Ricks told mourners Evans, a 1999 patrol academy graduate, had discussed car chases with his mother and believed they were dangerous.

"But he also believed the risks are worth the dangers and he would still believe this if he were here today," Ricks said.

Evans' pastor, the Rev. Steve Hawley, said Evans had described his training as grueling and difficult, but worth the struggle.

"Matt was proud to be one of you. He loved serving this state," Hawley said.

Trooper Brent Sugg, Evans' partner, stood before Evans'

flag-draped casket and tearfully recalled going to Troop A headquarters after Evans' death, sitting in the chairs where they often sat and finding forms in Evans' box. He said he made another trip there Monday night.

"I sat down in our chairs again and opened Matt's box and it was empty, just like me."

A procession of patrol cars escorted Evans' casket into the Del City area. Pallbearers slowly marched it into the church as other troopers and officers watched.

Sgt. Richard Kelly of the Tennessee Highway Patrol in Nashville attended the funeral of one of his fellow troopers who died in a similar chase recently.

"It's an honor to get a chance to show that although they are not in the same state, we are concerned about them," Kelly said about Evans' family before the service.

"It is out of respect for what he did for living that we are here. We do the same type of job, we're out there for the motorist."

Spectators joined law officers and firefighters along the 10-mile route to the cemetery where Evans and Rominger were buried side-by-side.