Officer's last ride allows Lexington to say thanks and goodbye

Herald-Leader columnistMay 4, 2010 

As people began gathering along Main Street to wait for the funeral procession of Lexington police Officer Bryan J. Durman to pass, I asked why they were there.

The answer was always the same: "I just wanted to pay my respects."

That's why Brad Morris was there, too, along with his wife, Jessica, and their daughters, Grace, 3, and Lucy, 1. But their reason for being there was more personal than most.

Morris had met Durman, 27, the morning of the night he was killed by a hit-and-run driver while investigating a noise complaint on North Limestone.

"We met at the barbershop," Morris said. "I got a haircut in the chair beside him, and 10 hours later he was dead."

A Lexington firefighter for 11 years, Morris knows all too well the ever-present dangers faced by uniformed public safety workers.

Morris was driving an ambulance on Feb. 13, 2004, when he and other firefighters responded to a domestic violence call on Adams Lane in rural southeast Fayette County. A deranged gunman opened fire on them. When the shooting stopped, firefighter Brenda Cowan was dead. Morris took cover behind the ambulance until police officers could escort him to safety.

Morris said he feels for the slain officer's family — as well as the suspect's family. And he understands the pain felt by other officers on the scene with Durman that fatal night. Survivor's guilt can be haunting — if only this or that had been different.

"It can happen any day, any time, any call," Morris said. "Somebody else has a plan, and we have no idea what it is."

Morris gently stroked his daughter Lucy's fine blond hair as they waited for the funeral procession to arrive.

Behind them, at the edge of Phoenix Park, was the Fayette County Peace Officers Memorial. Joseph M. Angelucci, killed in the line of duty in 1988, is the last of the 15 police officers' names carved on the stone.

In front of the Morris family, two Lexington fire ladder trucks hoisted a huge American flag across Main Street at Limestone for the funeral procession to pass beneath.

People with cameras and cell phones snapped photos of the billowing flag and shiny fire trucks, which sparkled in the sunshine of a perfect spring afternoon. But when the funeral procession arrived, the crowd hushed.

The silence continued for 45 minutes as 600 police cars and emergency vehicles from across the region, their blue and red lights flashing, escorted Durman's hearse at about 20 mph.

City hall, the courthouses, banks, law offices, stores and the Lexington Public Library emptied as employees joined passersby on the sidewalks. Some city employees clutched small flags.

"We have a lot of respect for our police officers and firefighters and our service men and women," said Becky Watts, who works in the Community Trust Bank Building. "They serve our community, and this is a way to show our respect."

Greg Morton and Sonya Knox don't work downtown, but they drove in from home to watch the procession at Courthouse Plaza.

"I just wanted to pay my respects," Morton said. "It's tragic when a life ends that young. He was just doing his job."

Reach Tom Eblen at (859) 231-1415 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1415, or at teblen@herald-leader.com. Read and comment on his blog, The Bluegrass & Beyond, at Kentucky.com.

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