Four law enforcement officers died last year from on-duty traffic accidents, but only three of them will have their names inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Special Agent Robert P. Flickinger will not be included. Flickinger was a 16-year veteran of the Chickasaw Nation police officer, or, as it is called, the Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Department. He died March 7, 2008, in a two-car crash on State Highway 199. Flickinger tried to pass another car on a hill east of Madill, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, which resulted in the accident. Flickinger had been with the Chickasaw Nation since 2004, was a graduate of the FBI National Academy and a member of the Lighthorse scuba diving and SWAT teams.
“The only reason given by the national memorial was that he was passing in a no passing zone,” Dennis Lippe, state law enforcement memorial chairman, said. “We and [Chickasaw Lighthorse] Chief of Police Jason O’Neal do not agree that a mistake in judgment should keep an officer from being honored – if it was in fact a mistake in judgment and not some other reason like falling asleep at the wheel or a medical reason,” Lippe said.
Two Oklahoma officers being honored this year also may been at fault in traffic accidents. Latimer County Deputy Dustin Duncan was headed home on a Le Flore County highway when his patrol car crossed into oncoming traffic and collided with another vehicle. Kiefer police sergeant Les Wilmott, rear-ended a tractor-trailer on a Rogers County highway. The case is closed, but highway patrol investigators never determined the accident’s cause.
If human error should disqualify officers from having their names engraved on the national memorial, Lippe said, then many officers would not be honored. Flickinger was added to the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Memorial last May, “and he will continue to be honored in Oklahoma,” Lippe said.
Being at fault did not prevent the inclusion of Jeffrey Rominger, an officer with the Oklahoma City Police Department, in the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Memorial. The City of Oklahoma City even named a stretch of Interstate 40 for officer Rominger, who died in 2000 while cresting a hill in pursuit of a car on the wrong side of Interstate Highway 40 at highway speeds. The driver of the car he was chasing, Patrick Kiplinger, was killed, along with Kiplinger’s 15-year old passenger nephew. Also killed in the inferno was an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper, Matthew Evans, who was coming from the opposite direction, in the correct lane of traffic, unaware of the wrong-way, high-speed chase coming directly at him.
Kiplinger’s only known crime that night was what Jeffrey Rominger told the dispatch. “I’ve got one running from me.” Would Kiplinger have continued in the wrong direction had he not been pursued? Whatever Kiplinger’s past criminal record was, was this chase worth it? The wrong way on an interstate highway? If the vehicle coming from the other direction had not been another law enforcement, this “accident” would likely be given a closer look. Should shooting into a crowd of people be permitted? Isn’t that analogous to speeding the wrong way on an Interstate highway cresting a hill? If to anyone else, why not to law enforcement? Only to stop the most dangerous crime, of which there is no evidence here. Perhaps the City of Oklahoma City thought that since officer Rominger gave his life in the event, he deserved to have that stretch of highway named after him. It is small comfort to the citizens of Oklahoma City or anyone passing through on Interstate 40, however, that this is what it means to “Protect and Serve.”