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Services held for State Trooper

FRANKLIN, Va. – Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday afternoon to pay their respects to a man who was eulogized in terms both heroic and humble.

With police and public safety officers on hand from all parts of the state, Robert A. Hill Sr. was remembered by family, friends, co-workers and even Virginia’s governor, as someone with a ready smile and a special sense of duty

to his family, to his church, to his job and to his community.

“He was a man who had a calling to public safety and a calling to public service,” Superintendent of State Police Col. W. Steven Flaherty said during prepared remarks at a funeral service for Senior Trooper Hill who died in the line of duty on Friday.

Hill was laid to rest Tuesday afternoon at Care Memorial Gardens near Courtland, Va. following a service at Apostolic Faith Church of God in Franklin.

The trooper died Friday afternoon when he was hit by a car on U.S. Route 58 near Adams Grove. He had just finished with a traffic stop when he and the car he had pulled over were both hit by another vehicle, a 1995 Cadillac driven by 84-year-old Lowell J. Carrington.

Hill, 42, died at the scene. The driver of the car that Hill had stopped, Megan Cotrell of Virginia Beach, was taken to a local hospital, where she was treated and released for minor injuries.

Carrington was flown by Virginia State Police Med-Flight helicopter to Sentara Norfolk General, where he remained Tuesday afternoon, according to Sgt. D.S. Carr, public information officer for the Virginia State Police.

Noting that Carrington was a retired minister from the area, Carr said the death of Trooper Hill was “tearing his family up pretty bad.” Carr said charges had not yet been filed, and would be at the discretion of the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Southampton County, pending a full investigation.

Tuesday afternoon, though, was set aside to honor the man who gave his life in the line of duty and to provide some comfort for his family, friends and co-workers. It was also a day to remember the everyday sacrifices that make police officers true public servants. “Last Friday, a wife lost her husband, a son and daughter lost their Dad …and our nation lost a true American hero,” said Virginia Secretary of Public Safety John Marshall during remarks at the funeral service.

“Clearly, Robert had a special kind of courage,” he added, noting that the pledge new State Police Academy graduates have to take reads, in part, “I shall consider no sacrifice too great in the performance of my duties.”

Marshall and others who spoke took pains to note that Hill’s sacrifices started long before he gave his life in the line of duty.

In addition to his regular duties as a state police officer, Hill served as the Area 34 office’s career training officer, counselor and crime prevention specialist.

A 19-year veteran of the State Police, he was assigned to Sussex upon graduating from the police academy in 1988. Five years later, he was sent back home to the Southampton County office, returning there on the same day as Sgt. Carr, who on Monday remembered working shifts together with Hill.

“We were friends,” he said. “He was a good guy, a great person.”

Carr and others remembered Hill for his willingness to contribute to the community outside of his work with the State Police.

He said that a few years ago, Hill took it upon himself to begin a program of Christmastime donations to children in the Southampton County Head Start program.

Sherman Vincent, a friend who participated in real estate ventures with Hill, said the two had contributed to causes ranging from the Make-a-Wish Foundation to credit counseling services to raising money for sick citizens who couldn’t pay for their own treatment.

“By all accounts, Robert made a difference in countless lives,” said Secretary Marshall.

Gov. Timothy Kaine remembered meeting Hill when the governor visited Franklin after the October flood.

“It’s a sad honor to be here on behalf of the commonwealth,” he said.

Kaine acknowledged Hill’s broad service to the community, saying “To make your life about serving others and to make a difference to them is one way to extend one’s life.”

Following a brief homily in which he told mourners that God understood what it was like to lose a loved one, the governor presented a state flag to Hill’s widow, Melissa Branch-Hill. The flag, he said, had flown over the capitol on Friday, the day her husband was killed in the line of duty.

Hill is also survived by his 17-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter, as well as two sisters and three brothers.

Though born in North Carolina, Hill grew up in Southampton County. He was a graduate of Franklin High School and joined the Virginia State Police in 1987.

Superintendent Flaherty said Hill’s is the second line-of-duty death for the Virginia State Police and the tenth for Virginia law enforcement agencies this year.

“The loss of Trooper Hill, he said “makes us realize just how vulnerable you are. It’ll make our people more careful, at least in the short term.”

R.E. Spears III is a staff writer with the Tidewater News in Franklin, Va., a sister publication of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.