North St. Paul police officer Richard “Rick” Crittenden
It’s a stretch of road Richard Crittenden Sr. knew well.
The North St. Paul police officer made regular traffic stops along the portion of Minnesota 36 that runs through the heart of the small city.
Accidents also routinely summoned his squad car to its shoulder.
Soon, Crittenden could have a permanent presence along the highway.
A bill making the rounds through the Capitol this session seeks to rename the section of Minnesota 36 within North St. Paul the Officer Richard Crittenden Memorial Highway.
The nine-year veteran of the city’s police department died not far from the roadway on Sept. 7, 2009, when the 57-year-old was shot in the head while responding to a domestic violence call at an apartment building.
“Richard was a fixture on 36, so it seems appropriate to honor him there,” said Police Chief Tom Lauth. “We want people passing through to see that sign and recognize that we lost a hero. … We want to share that with everybody we can.”
State Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, presented the legislation last week to the Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee alongside Lauth and Crittenden’s widow, Christine Crittenden.
The committee passed it unanimously.
Crittenden was the first officer to be killed in the line of duty in the city’s history.
“I think my husband deserves it,” Christine Crittenden said of the proposed memorial highway. “He loved North St. Paul and worked hard for this city. He died for it.”
Known as “Critter,” Richard Crittenden had a soft spot for kids and senior citizens he encountered on the job, his wife said.
“If a child needed something, he would do anything and everything he could to make sure they got it,” Christine Crittenden said. “He was a huge man but not just in stature, in the way he lived his life and treated his family and his community. That’s really what made him such a big man.”
To honor his legacy, Christine Crittenden bought her husband’s old squad car and decorated its trunk with the names of all the peace officers who have died in Minnesota’s history.
She drives it to law enforcement funerals, parades and other events that draw big crowds.
It’s a way to keep her husband’s spirit alive, she said, and remind people of the risks shouldered by law enforcement.
The memorial highway would do the same, she said.
“There is still a sharp pain I will never get over … but I am trying to move on and make him proud,” Christine Crittenden said.
A statue of Crittenden placed in front of North St. Paul City Hall is another homage to the fallen officer.
The bill will next make its way to the full Senate floor before being taken up by the House, Wiger said.
“There has been a very respectful response,” Wiger said. “This has been done for officers in other places, so there is precedent. … It’s one way we can pay tribute.”
Sarah Horner can be reached at 651-228-5539. Follow her at twitter.com/hornsarah.