Missouri legislature honors sheriff, 1st trooper killed in line of duty, as nation honors police

The state legislature has voted to memorialize two law enforcement officers fatally shot in 1933 by naming sections of Interstate 70 for them.

Missouri Highway Patrol Sergeant Ben Booth (left) and Boone County Sheriff Roger Isaac Wilson

Highway Patrol Sergeant Benjamin Booth was the first member of the Missouri State Highway Patrol to be killed in the line of duty.  He and Boone County Sheriff Roger Isaac Wilson were killed by two men they had stopped at the intersection of Highways 40 and 63.

On June 14, 1933, Booth was on a day off when Wilson called him in to help set up a roadblock as part of an effort to catch two men who robbed a bank in Mexico earlier that day.  The two men they stopped were not the robbers but were armed, and when their vehicle was stopped they shot the two law enforcement officers.  Wilson, 43, died at the scene.  Booth, 37, died on the way to a hospital.

Senate Bill 999 would designate I-70 in Columbia from Rangeline Street to Business Loop 70 the “Sergeant Benjamin Booth Memorial Highway,” and would make I-70 from Highway 63 to Rangeline the “Sheriff Roger I. Wilson Memorial Highway.”  The House finalized passage of that bill last week, ahead of National Police Week.

It was sponsored by Columbia senator Caleb Rowden (R) and carried in the House by Hallsville Republican Cheri Toalson Reisch.

The Missouri State Capitol’s dome is illuminated in blue through the month of May to honor Missouri law enforcement officers who gave their lives in the line of duty.

“These men were killed in cold blood in Boone County … and it is our duty to honor these men especially in light of law enforcement memorial month,” said Toalson Reisch.

Wilson is the grandfather of former Missouri Governor Roger Wilson, whose father was 15 when Sheriff Wilson was killed.  He told House Communications the recognition will mean a lot to the Wilson and Booth families.

“I think the recognition on the highways will probably mean more to the families than anybody else but I think it’ll also mean something to our community, so I’m glad that this is taking place,” said the former governor.

Kelly Allen of Springfield, Illinois, is the granddaughter of Ben Booth’s widow.  She says her grandmother and others often talked about the kind of man he was.

“He was an honest, good, working man, family man, and he was an honorable trooper,” said Allen.  “I’m just really honored and thrilled.  I know my mother and my grandmother would be so pleased that people still remember.”

Allen said when Booth was killed her grandmother struggled to raise the couple’s 7-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son.

“No safety net, no social security – of course that wasn’t invented yet – no pension, nothing.  The patrol was very good to her as what they could do but being during The Depression, everybody was having hard times,” said Allen.

Wilson said a lot has changed in law enforcement since his grandfather was the sheriff.

“We have lost the era when police officers of all stripes could actually be protectors, and almost parents, of our children – bringing somebody home and informing a parent instead of taking them down to the station and booking them is probably out the window because of all the liability now and the sensitivity around law enforcement.  I feel that’s a lost, constructive thing for society,” said Wilson.

SB 999 has been sent to the governor to await his attention.

The murders of Sheriff Wilson and Sergeant Booth triggered a massive manhunt including the use of roadblocks and airplanes.  Authorities eventually caught up to the two men responsible.  One of them was later hung in one of the last state executions by hanging in Missouri.  The other man, who testified against his partner, spent 12 years in state prison before being paroled.  He moved to Iowa, married and had four children, and his sentence was eventually commuted.

Bill named for Hailey Owens aims to accelerate and improve Amber Alerts

Changes meant to get Amber Alerts out more quickly and ensure they are as effective as they can be would become law under a bill in the House.

Representative Curtis Trent (right) listens as Jim Wood testifies in favor of HB 697, Hailey's Law.  Wood said it is his son, Craig, who abducted and murdered 10-year-old Hailey Owens, for whom the legislation is named.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Curtis Trent (right) listens as Jim Wood testifies in favor of HB 697, Hailey’s Law. Wood said it is his son, Craig, who abducted and murdered 10-year-old Hailey Owens, for whom the legislation is named. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 697 would establish Hailey’s Law, named for 10-year-old Hailey Owens of Springfield, who was kidnapped and murdered in February, 2014.

About two-and-a-half hours passed after Owens’ abduction before an Amber Alert was issued in the case.  Though it is now known that an earlier alert would not have saved her, the case prompted lawmakers and others to press for changes to make sure alerts would be issued faster.

The legislation known as “Hailey’s Law” has been offered before in the House but did not become law.  Even so, the Highway Patrol has launched implementation of some of the system changes it would require, so that alerts would go out earlier and with fewer steps needed to issue them.

This year the bill is being carried by Representative Curtis Trent (R-Springfield), who said it’s still important to make sure those changes are required by law.

“I think everyone’s on the same page here, but we’re just trying to make sure that it’s in statute, it’s going to happen in a timely basis, and if systems change in the future that the continued integration will always be a part of that,” Trent said.

Jim Wood, the father of the man charged with abducting and killing Hailey Owens, urged members of the House Committee on Crime Prevention and Public Safety to advance HB 697.

“I reached out to [Hailey’s family] with a deep sense of grief for my own family, and a deep sense of compassion for Hailey Owens and her family,” said Wood.     “It was two-and-a-half hours later before the Amber Alert was released,” Wood recalled of the events the day his son, he said, took Owens.  “We all know if we look at child abductions that children are usually dead within 45-minutes.  We need to fix this problem, and Hailey’s Law will enhance the Amber Alert system that will protect these children.”

HB 697 would also require that the Amber Alert System Oversight Committee meet annually to discuss potential improvements to the Amber Alert System.

Trio of public safety bills filed; sponsor says one could help prevent incidents like 2015 drowning in water patrol custody

The Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee for Public Safety and Corrections has filed three bills for the 2017 session dealing with public safety issues.  She said one would, in part, help prevent incidents such as the drowning of an Iowa Man while in patrol custody in 2014.

Representative Kathie Conway (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Kathie Conway (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

That bill would increase by $1-million the amount collected from boat title and registration fees that would go to the Water Patrol Division of the State Highway Patrol.

St. Charles Republican Kathie Conway said that division does more than put boats and troopers on Missouri’s waterways.

“They have to take care of docks, they have to take care of emergency equipment, they have to have trucks and SUVs that have ability to go four-wheel-drive and into places that some of their other vehicles can’t get, so it’s not just simply, ‘Well instead of a car they have a boat,’” said Conway.  “The $1-million will go a long, long way, and it comes in fees so it’s not the taxpayers’ money.  It’s the people who are actually using our waterways and registering their boats that will be contributing this extra money.”

Conway believes additional funding for the Water Patrol division will also lead to continued improvements in training of its troopers, and that will help prevent incidents such as the drowning of an Iowa man, Brandon Ellingson, while in patrol custody on the Lake of the Ozarks in 2014.

“That is exactly why we want it, so we know that these water patrol officers have the best training that they can have,” said Conway. 

She said when the Water Patrol became part of the Highway Patrol in 2011 there was, “some confusion and some overlapping, and there wasn’t, I don’t think, the best opportunities to train everybody to the highest degree.

“This money would go a long way in alleviating those situations that could be dangerous for the boating public,” said Conway.

The state recently agreed to pay $9-million to Ellingson’s family as part of a settlement agreement.

Another bill would extend to the state’s community colleges the ability that colleges and universities have for their police departments to control traffic on streets maintained by those institutions.

Conway says community colleges were left out when colleges and universities were granted that power under a bill that became law several years ago.

“They are able to control traffic on their campuses much better and that’s the safety of the students and everybody that visits the campus,” said Conway.

She said such authority would also make community colleges eligible to apply for federal money for training – money they are not eligible to apply for now.

A third bill filed today by Conway would close what she called a “loophole,” in how money in the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Fund can be used.       Conway said Governor Nixon’s Administration has used money in that fund to pay for the core expenses of the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco.

  “That money is to be used strictly to hire and maintain field investigators so that the public is assured that when we issue a license to an entity to sell alcohol … that the laws governing them are enforced and that those that don’t are punished or have their licenses revoked,” said Conway.  “I think so much of the crime we see can be traced back to alcohol and drugs, so if we’re going to give somebody a license to sell alcohol I feel as a state we’re responsible to make sure that they follow the rules for selling alcohol.” 

Conway said the number of field agents has declined and she believes the work of those agents has fallen to local law enforcement officials.

“Police officers aren’t trained in everything involved in having an alcohol license.  It’s like having a real estate license.  You don’t expect a cop to know everything that a broker should know to sell real estate,” said Conway.  “It’s our responsibility.  The city didn’t necessarily issues that license that we did and collected fees on.  I just think that we’ve gotten very lax in it and I think we’ve been doing a big injustice to the public.”

Each of these measures was filed as legislation in the 2016 session, and each passed out of the House with 138 or more votes.