Sunday, August 7, 2022

Memorial highway for fallen JCC officer up for vote Tuesday

A memorial for Sgt. Earl Heisler, a James City County Police officer who was killed in 1978, stands in front of the law enforcement center. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
A memorial for Sgt. Earl Heisler, a James City County Police officer who was killed in 1978, stands in front of the law enforcement center. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

Nearly 41 years after a James City County Police officer was shot and killed by his own gun, the county is one step closer to establishing a permanent and highly-visible memorial to remember him. 

On Tuesday, the James City County Board of Supervisors is slated to vote on a resolution that would jump start the process to name a section of road after Sgt. Earl M. “Buddy” Heisler. 

The named section would run about 1.3 miles along Centerville Road from Route 5000/Monticello Avenue to News Road — near where the family lived when Heisler was an officer, according to agenda documents.

“… Earl M. “Buddy” Heisler, served the residents of James City County exceptionally in his role as a Sergeant and Deputy Sheriff,” the resolution reads. “Sgt. Heisler served the residents of James City County in an exceptional manner for over six years and was devoted to both his family and this community.”

If approved by the Board of Supervisors, the request to name the road would move on to the Commonwealth Transportation Board, the official naming agency for state highways, bridges, interchanges and other transportation facilities.

If the Commonwealth Transportation Board votes to approve the name, the Virginia Department of Transportation will erect signs to memorialize the stretch of road as “Earl M. “Buddy” Heisler Memorial Highway.”

James City County would be responsible for the cost of producing, placing and maintaining the signs.

Heisler was killed Sept. 19, 1978 in a parking lot behind the now-closed Ramada Inn West on Richmond Road, near the Williamsburg city line. He was investigating a series of recent burglaries at the nearby Stratford Hall Apartments, located on Stratford Road near the intersection of Airport and Richmond roads.

He approached a vehicle with three people inside and opened a search of the car after seeing a bag of marijuana on the back seat. 

During the search, the driver, Donald Thatcher, grabbed Heisler’s gun and shot him in the face.

The idea to name a road, bridge or overpass after Heisler sprouted in April 2018 when county resident Bill Truax wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors. 

After the letter from Truax, then-interim County Administrator Bill Porter said officials were working with the police department to identify a section of road for the memorial.

The process slowed after that, but resurfaced in May 2019 when supervisors inquired again about naming a road after Heisler.

Supervisors then opened discussions about policies to name county buildings, roads and other facilities after people or things, later directing Assistant County Administrator Jason Purse to develop more formal policies for naming.

Heisler is currently memorialized on a sign outside the James City County Law Enforcement Center. He is the only officer in the county to be killed in the line of duty, but there is space on the sign for other names as well.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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