DEL CITY, Okla. (AP) -- From Tennessee, California, Michigan and across Oklahoma, they came Tuesday to honor an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper killed in accident he didn't see coming.
At least 800 officers from city police, county sheriff and state police agencies were among the 2,000 people filling the lower level pews of the First Southern Baptist Church for Trooper Matthew Scott Evans' funeral.
Evans, 24, was one of four people killed in a fiery crash early Thursday. Officers will return to the church later Tuesday for a service for Oklahoma City police Officer Jeff Rominger. Rominger, Evans, Patrick Kiplinger and Martin Hughes died as Rominger chased Kiplinger's car as it drove in the wrong lanes of Interstate 40.
Evans wasn't aware of the chase and his cruiser collided with Kiplinger's car after the car hit a tractor-trailer rig. Rominger's car slammed into the wreckage. Hughes, Kiplinger's 15-year-old nephew, was a passenger in his car.
Public Safety Commissioner Bob Ricks told the funeral crowd that 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 was destined to be a trooper, Ricks said. His mother, Kathy Evans, began working for DPS at age 17 and often took her son to the office.
"Matt was proud to be one of you. He loved serving this state," the Rev. Steve Hawley said. He said Evans had described his patrol academy experience as grueling and difficult.
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.
"Last night, I worked again and again I went to Troop A. 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 are to be buried side-by-side. Two Oklahoma City police helicopters flew low overhead as the procession entered the cemetery.
OHP Chief Gary Adams and Ricks handed the American flag that draped Evans' casket to his widow, Jennifer. After a 21-gun salute, two troopers played Taps and three OHP airplanes flew overhead.
Fellow troopers praised Evans' family for supporting them these past few days.
"They have, on several occasions, have participated in helping us get through this as well," said Trooper Don Stockton. "We also saw such an outpouring of support on the way to the cemetery today."