Posted by Debra Worley - email
WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – It's been a year since the Wilmington community lost one of their own. Officer Richard Matthews, 28, was killed Feb. 18, 2009 when he responded as back up for another officer who had a car stopped on South College Road around 1:18 a.m.
"He was trying to do his job," explained Chief Ralph Evangelous. "He was trying to assist another officer who was chasing some seriously bad guys. [They had] multiple pounds of drugs and guns, and it was a potentially violent situation."
As difficult as it is to remember, Evangelous says Matthews was fulfilling his role as an officer.
"It's what we do," said Evangelous matter-of-factly. "We're a police department and we put bad guys in jail and we protect the public. That's part of who we are."
Evangelous said it's hard to think about the amount of time that has gone by and that it is a tough time for everyone at the department, especially Matthews' squad
"Time does help, no question about it, but as the anniversary date comes up, obviously it becomes more emotional and more personal," said Evangelous. "Some of the officers are putting together some private memorial get-togethers for Rich."
The Wilmington Police Department held a special ceremony for Matthews at the location of the accident on Shipyard Boulevard. With sadness in his eyes, Evangelous said being at the location brings back unpleasant memories of the night Matthews died.
Officer Matthews was acting as back up for another officer involved in trying to stop three men who were throwing drugs out of their car. He was traveling eastbound on Shipyard Blvd. when he swerved to avoid what appeared to be a box in the middle of the road. He lost control of his car, crossed the median and hit a tree. The officer was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.
People throughout the Wilmington community are remembering the fallen officer by posting memories and thoughts on Facebook:
RIP Officer Matthews. [I'm] keeping your family in my prayers as you remember him. Praying for all the men and women in the line of duty putting their lives on the line to protect us! Thank-you
Officer Matthews will be remembered in Washington D.C. during National Police Week in May. Evangelous said officers are trying to raise enough money to add a memorial for every fallen officer, including Matthews, to a park in front of the station. They plan to have a formal ceremony to remember officers who died in the line of duty, also in May.
"Unfortunately I've been involved in too many police on duty deaths in my career," said Evangelous with a heavy heart. "It's never easy – you never get used to it. Hug your loved ones every night because you never know."
Anthony Pierce, 40, was driving the car and is charged with felony to elude arrest and possession with intent to sell and deliver marijuana. He will go to trial in March. Passengers Matthew Hendy, 26, and Eric Grant Smith, 25, were both charged with possession with marijuana.
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