A Nicholasville police officer who was on his way to training died after a three-car crash on a foggy U.S. 27 in northern Garrard County early Wednesday.
Officer Burke Rhoads, 35, died at University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital in Lexington, where he was taken following the crash that occurred just after 7 a.m., Kentucky State Police said.
State Rep. Russ Meyer, a former Nicholasville mayor, said he went to the UK hospital after hearing about the crash at about 8:30 a.m. About 30 police officers, including Lexington police Chief Mark Barnard, came to the hospital to express their condolences, Meyer said.
Meyer said of Rhoads: "He always met you with a smile and a hug. ... He was just a team player. He didn't overshadow anybody and didn't want to."
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Nicholasville City Commissioner Betty Black said Rhoads was "a top-notch police officer. He was always polite, caring. He was personable to talk to. He was just a first-class officer."
Rhoads was on duty and driving his cruiser to a training session in Richmond when the crash occurred at Rocky Top, just south of the Kentucky River, Trooper Paul Blanton said. There was heavy fog in the area at the time of the crash.
The police car was headed south on U.S. 27 when a white passenger car pulled from Rogers Road (Ky. 1845) and clipped the rear of the cruiser, Blanton said.
The cruiser "rotated around" and spun into the opposing lanes of 27, where it was struck in the rear passenger side by a Cadillac SUV, Blanton said.
"All the impact is on that far corner where the wheel would be" on the cruiser's passenger side, Blanton said.
"It was a very severe impact," he said.
Chasity Gordon, 41, of Lancaster, the driver of the white passenger car, a 2012 Chevrolet Cruze, was treated at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center in Danville and released, Blanton said.
A husband, his wife and their daughter were in the dark 2010 Cadillac SUV, Blanton said. It was driven by Sean Abraham, 47, of Lancaster, state police said. Abraham and his wife were treated at UK Hospital for non-life-threatening injuries to their lower extremities.
Gordon's husband was driving in another vehicle ahead of her, Blanton said. The husband returned to the scene and spoke with Blanton.
"'He said, 'Man, you wouldn't believe the fog that was out here this morning,'" Blanton recounted.
A trace of fog still hung in the air at noon, five hours after the crash, as a state police accident-reconstruction team continued to investigate.
Flags at Nicholasville City Hall and other locations were lowered to half-staff as word of Rhoads' death spread Wednesday.
Rhoads is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.
Melissa Rhoads is a teacher at the Jessamine Early Learning Village in Nicholasville, Meyer said. The family recently bought a home on Sugar Creek Pike south of Nicholasville, Meyer said.
Burke Rhoads grew up in Iowa, according to family friends. He was a former U.S. Army military police officer, according to social media accounts.
He was a University of Kentucky student majoring in history in 2006-07, university spokesperson Kathy Johnson said. Rhoads went to work for the Nicholasville Police Department in January 2008, said spokesman Sgt. Scott Harvey.
Harvey said Rhoads was known for consistency.
"Burke was an officer that was going to do the same job the same way every time," Harvey said. "Burke was very predictable, which in law enforcement is a good thing. You knew what Burke Rhoads was going to do when you were on a call with him. He just did his job, he loved his job, and he loved the officers he was with. We suffered a great loss today."
Harvey said the department will step up to help Rhoads' wife and children.
"His wife mentioned today that he always cut his boys' hair. We've got tons of officers here who know how to do a military haircut," Harvey said. "We can mow grass. We can do all those things that a family does when a family loses a loved one."
The Nicholasville police department has not had a line-of-duty death since 1941, Harvey said. Paul "Ted" Ketron, 32, was shot and killed in June of that year while investigating a shooting in Nicholasville.
"We have said for years that, statistically, we are overdue," Harvey said. "We train for events like this. Burke was a member of our honor guard. Burke has worked a lot of line-of-duty deaths. He has given honors to a lot of officers across the state when they have lost their lives."
Counselors were at the police department Wednesday to talk with officers and staff, Harvey said.
Harvey recalled how a headlight went out on Rhoads' cruiser one night. Rhoads returned to the department and took a headlight off a pool car and replaced the cruiser headlight so he could finish his shift.
A sergeant told Burke that he could have driven the rest of the night and then turned in the cruiser for repair the next morning. Burke looked at the sergeant a moment before responding.
"He said, 'It's against the law to drive with one headlight,'" Harvey remembered. "And that was just Burke's mindset. He could not hold himself to a different standard than he held the public. If he was going to pull somebody over for one headlight, he was going to make sure both his headlights worked. That's just the way his brain worked, and we loved him for it."
City Commissioner Black said the death brings to mind other public servants who have died while on duty.
In November 2001, two Jessamine County sheriff's deputies — Capt. Chuck Morgan, 51, and Deputy Billy Ray Walls, 28 — died after a shootout while trying to serve a warrant. A third deputy, Sammy Brown, was also wounded but survived.
And in January 1993, Jessamine County Fire Chief Mike Wheeler and firefighter Cecil Fain died after their fire truck overturned while returning from a structure fire.