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The ultimate sacrifice

BY ANTHONY LOMBARDI - alombardi@perutribune.com

It was the afternoon of July 5, 2007, when Master Trooper Detective David E. Rich was shot and killed while investigating an apparent stranded vehicle one mile west of Wabash on U.S. 24. 

Rich, 41, was on his way home and in street clothes when he noticed a motorist on the side of the road. The Indiana State Trooper was not aware the man, Joseph M. Vultaggio Jr., was driving an SUV reported stolen the day before.

As Rich approached the car, the man opened fire with a shotgun, striking the trooper in the chest. Rich was survived by his wife, seven-year-old daughter, twin four-year-old sons, parents, sister and brother.

Almost a decade later, Rich’s sacrifice hasn’t been forgotten. He was one of 46 troopers honored at a memorial service Wednesday morning at the ISP’s Peru Post. 

“We’re assembled here this day to honor our departed comrades,” ISP Lt. Jeremy Kelly said during the ceremony. “To perpetuate the memory of our dead, to reverently commemorate the service of those who have given their lives … and those who have died serving the state of Indiana as members of our department.” 

Rich was one of four troopers – Sgt. Glen R. Hosier, Trooper Robert J. Lather II and Trooper Daniel R. Barrett –  assigned to the ISP Peru District who were killed in the line of duty and remembered by about 50 troopers, officers, county prosecutors, city officials and family members.

“It’s touching,” Kelly said. “Several of the officers that passed … I have known personally … (Rich) was one of the finest men I’ve ever met … It was horrible, and it doesn’t get any easier as the years go by.”

Kelly said that, while he’ll never forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice, the memorial service is a dedicated moment to remind us all.

Peru Chief of Police Mike Meeks also came out to show his support for the fallen officers and their family members.

Meeks said he didn’t have the opportunity to meet Trooper Barrett, who died Jan. 27, 2008, when his police car left the roadway and struck a tree during a highway chase, but he did know Rich.

“One of the good guys – a great personality, a great police officer and just a really good man all around,” Meeks said about the former trooper. “We’ve missed him from day one … It was a big loss for, not only law enforcement, but for the Wabash community and the Miami (County) community.”

Meeks and Kelly both said their officers’ safety is in the back of their minds everyday, but they can’t think actively about it because it would consume their every waking moment.

“You hope that nothing happens – you pray that nothing happens – but you just never know what people are going through,” Meeks said. “We might run into them at the worst point in their life, where they feel like (a desperate measure) is the step they have to take to prevent themselves from going to jail.”

While he didn’t personally know any of the fallen troopers, Peru Mayor Gabe Greer also wanted to show his respect and appreciation to the men and woman in blue.

“It’s always important to come out and show your support for public servants who have given everything for their community,” Greer said. “We couldn’t do it without them on the front lines making sure that we’re safe.”

Toward the end of the service, Peru High School student Garrett Rogers played “Taps” for those assembled – and in memory of those who had fallen.