One of those ten is former Wellington resident James Thornton, who was killed in the line of duty in 1973
Family, friends, loved ones, and members of the Kansas Highway Patrol family gathered in Hutchinson today to honor the sacrifice of our agency’s ten troopers who have been lost in the line of duty. Governor Jeff Colyer and Colonel Mark Bruce spoke at the event where more than 120 people paid tribute to these ten troopers for whom the state now has dedicated memorial highways.
“Today’s event is one that we feel is incredibly important for our agency, and for all of these family members, those here with us today, and those were unable to make it,” said Patrol Superintendent Mark Bruce. “These ten fine men lived a life of service and were proud to be a part of the Patrol. They are an intricate part of the Patrol’s 81-year history, and they will never be forgotten.”
“A life given in behalf of the safety of others is the ultimate sacrifice,” said Governor Colyer. “I express my deepest gratitude to these brave men for their selfless service and extend my heartfelt condolences to their families. These men will always be remembered in our state, and I am honored to pay tribute to them today.”
Governor Colyer signed Senate Bill 375 into law earlier this year, designating memorial highways for the Kansas Highway Patrol’s ten fallen troopers, and for Johnson County Sheriff’s Master Deputy Brandon Collins, who died two years ago.
“These highway designations will ensure that these honorable men will be commemorated and known to Kansas and our travelers for years to come,” Bruce said.
Both today’s event and the highway designations would not have been possible without assistance from several who partnered with the Patrol to ensure that these men were commemorated. Governor Colyer and the Kansas Legislature were instrumental in passing Senate Bill 375 into law. The Kansas Department of Transportation handled the printing and installation of the highway signs. The Kansas State Fair helped orchestrate today’s event and assisted families who attended.
In the coming weeks, there will be a series of memorial events at cemeteries across the state. The cemeteries have been of great assistance in the planning of these events. The events honoring each individual trooper will be held at the cemetery where the troopers are buried. The first of these events was held this afternoon at 4:00 p.m. for Trooper Conroy O’Brien in Abbyville. US Highway 50, from K-61 to Sylvia, will be dedicated in his honor.
One of the ten fallen troopers that was honored today was James Thornton. Thornton was fatally shot Tuesday, Oct. 3, 1973, by a hitchhiker from New York who had recently been charged with murdering his father. Thornton was shot in the head with a .32 pistol as he was bending over to check the man’s gear.
The assailant, Edward E. Mitchell, was then killed in a shoot-out with law enforcement a short time later in Topeka.
Thornton served Kansas for more than twenty-four years and was scheduled to retire within the next year. According to newspaper accounts after his death, he had been urged by some residents in Sumner County to run for sheriff following his impending retirement from the Kansas Highway Patrol.
Thornton’s graveside event will occur at 4:00 p.m. September 18
Highland Cemetery: 425 Amos Becker Road, Winfield.
Memorial Highway Location: The portion of United States highway 81 from its junction with United States highway 166, then north to the Sedgwick county line, is hereby designated as the trooper James D. Thornton memorial highway.
His widow, Wanda, lives in Winfield. Their daughter Vicki Akers lives with her husband Bill in Douglass. Gary lives in Raleigh, SC.
Gary spoke briefly about growing up in Wellington when his father had been stationed there. “It was a great place to grow up and I am proud of it. I am also very proud of Mary King with the Kansas Highway Patrol for all of her work. She did an amazing job with this. I am thankful to all of the troopers who showed up.
I have really fond memories of seeing my dad working the the gates at the state fair when I was growing up. I have had people come up to me and tell me my dad had stopped them for speeding all those years ago, and was very gracious.
The Kansas Highway Patrol plays a vital role in the State of Kansas, and I am just amazed by the turnout today. This was a great tribute.”