Mom finally meets an officer who has kept her daughter’s memorial clean for years | World news us
(CNN) – Indianapolis Police Officer Jeff Stagg expected no fanfare when he stopped to pick up trash and clear weeds around a roadside memorial for Shelby Smith – he just didn’t want the young woman, who was killed 22 years ago by a drunk driver, to be forgotten.
On Monday, Stagg met Smith’s mother, who contacted him after a video of him cleaning up the area caught public attention earlier this year.
“It was overwhelming and I was so grateful because I had no idea that, you know, someone had done that,” Sherry Smith told CNN. “I just felt like it had to be a special person.”
Stagg has been with the Metropolitan Indianapolis Police Department for 34 years and the intersection where Shelby was hit by the drunk driver is right in the middle of his pace, so he passed him several times a day for most of the time. his career.
He told CNN he was not working on the day of the crash, but dropped by a few days later and stopped to speak to two of Shelby’s friends who were setting up the original memorial.
Stagg said he had kept an eye on the memorial ever since and noticed a few years ago that it was starting to deteriorate.
“I just decided that I won’t let Shelby’s death in this intersection be forgotten,” Stagg said. “I just started picking up the trash, keeping the grass and weeds from encroaching around the cross and the little angel figures and rocks that they had placed at the base and I just tried to keep them as presentable as possible. “
He also bought new plastic flowers to replace the ones that had faded and weathered over the years. Workers at the nearby gas station are doing what they can to keep the area clean, but Stagg said a lot of trash is exploding because it is a busy area.
Smith said she and her family had maintained the memorial for years, but moved around 12 years ago and now lives in Texas. The Covid-19 pandemic has made visiting the site more difficult for relatives.
Stagg said he stopped by the memorial about every other day and that in August he told Shelby’s story to a man who filmed a video of him picking up trash and stopped by for the to thank.
The passerby posted the video on TikTok, and Stagg’s efforts made local news.
“I knew I had to meet him because he had to be a very special person,” Smith said. “And he is.”
She called Stagg in August to thank him and they planned to meet at the memorial in October because she was going to be in town.
“She called me about it and I said ‘Mrs. Smith, you won’t believe it, but I’m parked next to the Shelby memorial as we speak,” Stagg said. “And her voice started to crack, then my voice started to crack and it was a touching conversation.”
Prior to the meeting, Stagg worked with another policeman, good at woodworking, to build a new cross for the memorial. The white cross has Shelby Smith’s name in bright pink letters.
They packed the original cross to give it to Smith.
“Aside from the fading and peeling of the white paint, the cross itself held up despite the pretty nasty Indiana weather,” Stagg said.
Smith gave Stagg a big hug when they met in the parking lot of the gas station near the memorial. She brought flowers and a photo of Shelby to put on the site.
“It’s so beautiful,” she said in a video shot by CNN affiliate WISH.
Smith said she thanked Stagg for his service as a police officer and for his thoughtfulness and generosity.
The officer who arrested the drunk driver was also at the memorial to Smith’s visit. “It was nice to see him. I recognized him right away,” Smith said. “It’s been 22 years, but I recognized him right away.”
Stagg said his daughter was the same age as Shelby and it was devastating to think of all the things her mother couldn’t go through because of the actions of a drunk driver.
Smith said Shelby was 18 and had just graduated from high school when she died. She was planning to go to the University of Southern Indiana and wanted to study.
“She was so passionate about school, friends and family,” Smith said.
She had quit work at one of her two jobs and was driving to spend the night at a friend’s house when her car was hit by the drunk driver, Smith said.
Smith said she became very active with Mothers Against Drunk Driving after the crash and campaigned for tougher DUI laws in Indiana.
Stagg said it has been an honor to take care of the memorial and to be able to meet Smith after all these years and that is the kind of thing the police do all the time.
“I strongly believe that is part of the job,” Stagg said. “When we can try to do something to make things a little better in the aftermath of a tragedy, that’s what we do.”
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