ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — Thirty-nine years after three Florida Highway Patrol troopers were killed in a plane crash, the state is honoring their sacrifice with a roadway designation.
On July 13, 1981, Cpl. Cleo “Tommy” Tomlinsons, Trooper Merle Cook and Trooper Robert Pruitt were in an airplane that crashed in St. Johns County while assisting in the search for two suspects wanted for breaking and entering.
“We had received a call requesting assistance from the Sheriff’s Office on some burglary suspects they were trying to track,” retired FHP Trooper Rick McIntyre said.
McIntyre said it happened on a Monday. He dropped off his co-worker and friend, Tomlinson, at the airport so he could help search the wooded area. On his way back to assist on foot, he witnessed the horrific plane crash.
“A person goes into shock when they see something like that,” McIntyre said. “At the time, I had less than five years on the patrol and it was something horrible to witness.”
As the calls went out over the service radio, Tomlinson’s son was on the receiving end. He was in training to become a trooper.
“I can remember every detail about that day,” Tomlinson’s son and retired FHP trooper Chet Tomlinson said. “That day I was in recruit training at Parris Island.”
That day, three families lost a husband and father. The community lost three troopers who were protecting their homes.
Now, almost four decades after the crash, family members said they are thankful that their fathers’ sacrifices have not been forgotten.
“Hopefully the people and the citizens of the state of Florida understand the sacrifice the officers make each and every day when they walk out the door,” Tomlinson said.
Of the 48 FHP troopers who have died in the line of duty, fewer than half have received a roadway designation.
The sign, which includes all three troopers, is on U.S. Route 1 and stretch about 5 miles long. The FHP said it is in dedication of their sacrifice and a reminder for drivers to stay alert while on the road.
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