Tribute to honor officer killed in '61

Service is for first, only patrol casualty

May 29, 2001|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Forty years after patrolman Randolph Brightwell pulled over a noisy Nash Metropolitan and lost his life, Howard County police will honor its first and, so far, only officer killed in the line of duty.

With bagpipes, a formal wreath-laying and a police dog at today's graveside service in Poplar Springs, the department will honor the 34-year-old canine officer and father who was shot May 29, 1961.

The department marked the date several years ago with a low-key memorial, but there had not been any sort of formal event since Brightwell's funeral, said Sgt. Tim Black.

A Police Department history committee, formed to commemorate the department's 50th anniversary next year, decided a more elaborate memorial was in order for Brightwell this year, said Black, who is coordinating the service.

"The boy gave his life for the department, for the people, and I think he should be honored," said retired Lt. Harry Harrison, who was acting chief at the time of Brightwell's death.

Harrison, 81, said he is too old to make the trip from Alabama, where he lives, to Poplar Springs United Methodist Cemetery in western Howard County. But Harrison's son, who lives in the area, will attend.

So will Chief Wayne Livesay, County Executive James N. Robey and members of Brightwell's family, including a half-brother, John Fleming, who was working as a dispatcher the night two men who had robbed and killed a gas station attendant made Brightwell their second victim.

Fleming, 64, recalls Brightwell's last radio report about midnight that evening, saying he had just pulled over the yellow Nash on Fels Lane, now part of Courthouse Drive in Ellicott City.

"I knew he was stopping this car and everything," Fleming said. "He stopped this car because it had had a loud muffler."

It sounded as if it were a routine traffic stop, nothing worth sticking around for. His shift over, Fleming headed home.

Only later did Fleming learn that the traffic stop ended in tragedy.

Before Brightwell pulled them over, the men in the Nash - Clarence D. Brindle and Robert Bruce Westcoat, both of Catonsville - had robbed a nearby gas station and fatally shot the 31-year-old attendant, Charles F. Gallion Jr.

Brightwell knew nothing about that when he made the stop. But he found himself scuffling with the men. Brindle managed to grab the officer's service revolver and shot him five times in the head and chest.

Both men were convicted of murder. Brindle was paroled in 1976 and died in 1979. Westcoat was paroled in 1979.

That long-ago slaying stands out for local officers, in large part because no one else has met the same fate. By contrast, the Baltimore Police Department has lost 48 officers since then.

A Howard County Police Department recruit, Roger D. Cassell Jr., collapsed and died during training at the police academy in 1994. But Brightwell is the only officer the department has lost to violence.

The service is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. at Poplar Springs United Methodist Cemetery, 915 E. Watersville Road in Mount Airy.

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