Lexington police officer Roy H. Mardis died on duty 30 years ago, but his legacy continued to be felt Sunday night as his family gathered with K-9 unit officers to remember him.
Mardis, 35, was tracking double homicide suspect Randy Haight through a Mercer County cornfield with his tracking bloodhound, Amanda, on Aug. 23, 1985, when officers on the perimeter of the field caught sight of the fugitive and opened fire. Mardis was accidentally killed in the crossfire by a ricocheted bullet from a state trooper's gun.
Mardis' family, friends and retired K-9 officers who had worked with him gathered Sunday under shade trees at the K-9 Unit training facility on Roy H. Mardis Drive as officers unveiled a new road sign with his name and badge number.
"It just means everything to me that it's been 30 years and they haven't forgotten," said Sue Mardis, Roy Mardis' wife.
Current K-9 Unit officers who attended the event offered assurances that he'd not been forgotten.
"When you first come into this unit, we always hear his name," K-9 officer Brian Burnette said. "There's this standard of how he handled himself and the amount of people he caught."
Roy Mardis and Amanda were well known for their tracking skills.
"The number of catches they had was crazy," Sue Mardis said. "Those two together were on fire."
After Roy Mardis died, Amanda lived with Sue Mardis for about two years, she said. But after a while, she said, keeping Amanda from working didn't feel right.
Amanda then went to work with the Winchester police department, and she was there until she died at age 10.
Roy Mardis, who was the department's Officer of the Year in 1984, was remembered Sunday for his service, from starting community football games for local kids at parks to being the first officer to respond to a call.
"Roy insisted on helping the community," retired K-9 officer Artie Greene said. "He never forgot that."
Mardis' service as a K-9 officer took him from abandoned buildings in Lexington to the deep foothills of Eastern Kentucky or Virginia, Greene said.
Greene, who also worked with bloodhounds, was often with Mardis on his searches for murder suspects and violent criminals in unsafe areas. But Mardis was always comfortable and rarely rattled, Greene said.
The search in the cornfield had been no different; Mardis had been called and he went without hesitation, his widow said.
Haight was captured by police in the field after Roy Mardis died. He was sentenced to death for murder in the deaths of Patricia Vance and David Omer near Herrington Lake in Garrard County. The killings led to the Mercer County search.
"If you are going to have a death penalty, then use it," Haight told a reporter last year. He remains on Death Row.
Mardis' death was a shock to the community, especially those who worked with him.
Retired K-9 officer Michael Doane, who was on the K-9 Unit with Mardis, said the unit was a family.
That camaraderie hasn't changed, Burnette said.
"When you see the same guys night after night, you start to depend on each other and help each other," he said.
Roy Mardis was known as a pioneer in his field, and the impact he made on his unit continues to be felt, even by officers who never met him.
"It's not the length of a life that's important, it's the depth," Stewart said. "In his 35 years, he did more than most men can do in many more than that."
Mardis, who had seven daughters, is not only remembered as being a great officer, Stewart said, but a great father, husband and friend.
Sue Mardis said he was the love of her life.
"A lot of people live a lifetime and never find what we had," she said.