Thursday, June 08, 2023

Progress being made for LEO memorial

Local Editor | March 24, 2023 1:00 AM

WALLACE — Earlier this month, the Shoshone Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) met former Shoshone County Sheriff Mike Gunderson, Roy Reel, Spike Angle and Dan Schierman to discuss their progress on a new memorial that will be outside the county courthouse.

The memorial will honor law enforcement officers who have fallen in the line of duty.

The concept was first floated about two years ago when Reel came to Gunderson and Osburn Police Chief Darell Braaten with the idea — Reel had been a dispatcher for the county in the 1970s and took the call the last time a local LEO was killed in ‘76.

Both Gunderson and Braaten felt this was a worthy cause and put together a group of former LEOs who might be interested in helping them figure out how to accomplish their goal.

The group first met with the BOCC last June and proposed their plan to have the memorial sit on the courthouse’s lawn, near the flagpole and Ten Commandments.

The BOCC agreed with their plan wholeheartedly, and along with a donation from Dave Smith Motors, committed some county funds to the project as well.

The initial plan was to have the memorial stone placed in the fall, but as cold weather set in and supply chain issues made delivery slower than anticipated the project was pushed to the spring.

The committee has the stone now but needs the weather to be consistently at 55 degrees or higher in order for it to be placed and sandblasted.

In the time since the BOCC had approved the project, the board has had a complete change in its members, so the recent meeting consisted of bringing them up to speed, making sure that they still had the board’s blessing, and also seeing if they would have any issues with the project expanding a bit.

Along with the memorial stone, the plan now includes a bench that will be placed nearby, as well as lighting for the memorial and pavers put in that lead to it.

“I think it’s the least we can do to accommodate these families,” Gunderson said.

The BOCC was thrilled to learn about the memorial — and chairman Dave Dose made sure that the committee knew that they were there to help if need be.

“If I understand it correctly, the last commission has blessed this,” Dose said. “So I think it’s just a matter of figuring out how we can help make it happen. Let’s hope we don’t have to put any more names on it.”

In the county’s long history, only two LEOs have fallen in the line of duty, so their names will be the first two added to the memorial.

The first name will be that of 66-year-old Wallace Police Officer John C. Farris, who was stabbed to death on Jan. 31, 1946, after catching a suspect attempting to break into a grocery store. The suspect fled, but was later arrested after being shot by other officers. The 21-year-old suspect, an escapee from the Montana State Penitentiary, was later convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

The second name inscribed will be that of 23-year-old Osburn Police Officer Earl Charles “Chuck” Ashton, who was shot and killed on Aug. 17, 1976, after stopping the driver of a vehicle for traveling the wrong way on Interstate 90. As he approached the window of the vehicle, the male suspect fired at Ashton with a .30-.30 rifle and struck him in the neck as he attempted to push the barrel of the gun away. The suspect was later arrested following a pursuit in Kootenai County and was sentenced to death. However, the sentence was later overturned by a Supreme Court ruling and he ended up receiving 25 years in prison.

As soon as the weather gets back to being steadily warmer, the different parts of the memorial will be installed and a dedication ceremony will take place.

The Law Enforcement Memorial account at the courthouse will remain active for anyone who would like to donate to it, whether that be for maintaining the memorial or — God forbid — it ever needs another name added to it.

“I think this is a great thing,” said Commissioner Tracy Casady.

“I agree,” said Commissioner Jeff Zimmerman.

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