Legislation would rename Hwy. 36 in North St. Paul to honor slain officer


North St. Paul Police Chief Tom Lauth testified at the Capitol on March 3 on behalf of a bill by Sen. Chuck Wiger that would rename a stretch of Hwy. 36 in honor of slain North St. Paul Police Officer Richard Crittenden. Christine Crittenden, widow of the slain officer, also testified. (photo courtesy of Sen. Wiger's office)

Christine Crittenden testifies at a state Senate committee meeting on March 3 at the Capitol in St. Paul in support of renaming the stretch of Minnesota Highway 36 that runs the North St. Paul after her late husband. Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, right, presented the bill, honoring Officer Richard Crittenden who was shot and killed while responding to a domestic disturbance call on Sept. 7, 2009. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)

Christine Crittenden, the widow of North St. Paul Police Officer Richard Crittenden, listens as city manager Jason Ziemer (not pictured) testifies for a bill presented by Sen. Chuck Wiger, right, which would rename a stretch of Minnesota Highway 36 for the slain officer. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)

Pictured, from left to right, are North St. Paul Police Chief Tom Lauth, state Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, Christine Crittenden, the widow of North St. Paul Officer Richard Crittenden, state Rep. Leon Lillie, DFL-North St. Paul, and state Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park. Schoen is a Cottage Grove police officer. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)

Supporters of a bill to rename Minnesota Highway 36 in North St. Paul “the Officer Richard Crittenden Memorial Highway” stand in front of the slain officer’s squad car, which was repainted as a memorial to Minnesota officers killed in the line of duty, at the state Capitol March 3. Crittenden’s wife, Christine, is at center, holding pictures of her husband. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)

Pain palpable nearly 5 years after Rick Crittenden’s death

Nearly five years after North St. Paul Officer Richard Crittenden was shot and killed responding to a domestic dispute call, those who revered and loved the husband, father and grandfather are still striving to honor him.

“He gave his life for two people he didn’t even know,” Police Chief Tom Lauth said. “He answered the call. We don’t all know that. We’re not all tested with that. He was and he did.”

Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, presented legislation on Monday, March 3, at the state Capitol that would rename the stretch of Minnesota Highway 36 that runs through North St. Paul the “Officer Richard Crittenden Memorial Highway.”

Lauth called Crittenden’s death in the line of duty the “supreme sacrifice,” saying that naming a high-traffic roadway after him is more than fitting.

“People will see this and know that officer Rick Crittenden laid down his life here,” Lauth said. “Some of his grandchildren will be driving soon. They’ll see that.”

Crittenden was killed on Labor Day, Sept. 7, 2009. He was 57. 

It was around 8:37 a.m., and it was a beautiful day, Lauth said during the hearing on the bill. A woman reported her estranged husband might hurt her at the Aspen Village apartment complex, 2253 E. Skillman Ave., in North St. Paul. She had an order of protection against the suspect, Devon Dockery.

When officers entered the apartment, Dockery, 34, struck Crittenden’s face with a burning rag, took the officer’s gun from his holster and shot him in the head. A bullet also hit the wrist of Maplewood Officer Julie Olson, who responded as backup.

She was still able to return fire, and killed the man.

Crittenden’s brutal death just two years prior to his expected retirement devastated the community, and the close-knit police department that has fewer than 20 members.

North St. Paul transformed the day of his funeral. As the funeral processioned passed by on main roads, bagpipes bellowed and hundreds of mourners and many American flags lined the streets.

Crittenden’s life and death have inspired proposed changes to domestic abuse laws, a memorial motorcycle ride, and a statue in front of North St. Paul City Hall erected to immortalize the officer who had numerous nicknames, a sharp wit and a big heart for youngsters, especially his grandchildren. 

North St. Paul officers wore memorial pins for a year following his death.

Friends and area businesses refurbished a 1987 white Chevrolet Corvette for Crittenden’s wife, Christine. The couple had planned to fix it up and use it after his retirement. 

The police department gave the officer’s squad car to his widow, who had it repainted as a memorial to slain Minnesota officers. The vehicle, which has rows of names printed on the trunk, was parked in front of the Capitol on March 3.

“Very well known, very well loved”

Those who testified March 3 in support of the bill to rename the North St. Paul segment of Highway 36 offered one another a hand on a shoulder or an embrace, as their voices broke or their eyes filled with tears.

Christine Crittenden was among those who spoke to the Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee.

On the table in front of her, she placed a portrait of her late husband and the photo of him holding the hand of his young granddaughter that was used as a model for the bronze statue in his likeness. The memorial was unveiled in front of the North St. Paul Fire Department a year after he was killed.

Crittenden continues to find ways to memorialize her husband, not only to honor him, but to make sure those in uniform who have been killed aren’t forgotten.

“I know the pain,” she said.

Lauth, Wiger and North St. Paul city manager Jason Ziemer also provided testimony.

Lauth said Crittenden was “very well known” and “very well loved.”

He noted that Crittenden came to law enforcement later in life, but “being a police officer was truly a calling.”

“Rick was a big man,” he said. He had a “presence about him,” a booming voice and a twinkle in his eyes.

Also called “Critter,” he garnered the nickname “Grandpa Rick,” according to past Review articles, because he was the eldest officer during his nine years with the department, and went out of his way to mentor younger officers.

A photograph of Crittenden sits on the desk of St. Paul police Sgt. Mike Wortman, also one of the speakers at Crittenden’s funeral. If there ever was someone who deserved to have a highway named after him, Wortman said it was Rick Crittenden Sr.

“Rick was a real cop,” Wortman told the committee. 

The committee passed the bill unanimously, and referred it to the Senate floor.

State Rep. Leon Lillie, DFL-North St. Paul, is expected to soon present a companion bill to the House.

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7814 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.

 

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