MILAN — Eighteen years after his death, Ohio Highway Patrol Trooper Robert Perez Jr. was honored Tuesday when a sign in his memory was unveiled along the Ohio Turnpike in Erie County.
Perez, a lifelong Lorain resident and 1994 graduate of Admiral King High School, died three days after a minivan struck his cruiser from behind May 12, 2000, while he was filling out a traffic ticket.
Turnpike Executive Director Randy Cole said the driver was high on amphetamines and struck the back of Perez’s cruiser at 83 mph.
With the help of state Sen. Tom Patton, R-Strongsville, the memorial sign for Perez launched a whole program.
“It’s part of a program that honors all 12 men who have lost their lives in nine separate incidents since 1967 in service to the Turnpike and our customers,” Cole said. “All of them, including Trooper Perez, were performing their duties at the time of their death. This program not only honors the men who lost their lives, but also brings renewed attention to this state’s move-over law.”
Cole noted the anniversary of 24-year-old Perez’s death fell on National Peace Officer Remembrance Day, but the date is etched in the Perez family’s memory.
Highway Patrol Superintendent Paul Pride said Perez was the 34th trooper killed in the line of duty. A part of the 132nd academy class, he received his first commission in 1999 in Fremont. He was transferred to the Milan post in March 2000.
“Today’s dedication is a poignant reminder of the risks law-enforcement officers take every (day),” he said. “Each day across the state, thousands of men and women complete their duties, a life dedicated to service above self while knowing the potential for danger. Policing is a noble profession and Robert was a noble servant. He served with great pride, dignity and honor.”
Family friend Craig James said the dedication isn’t just for Perez’s father Robert Perez Sr., his mother Anita Carrion Lim and his sister Amanda Perez Olsey, all of whom received replica signs, but also for all of those who have lost loved ones in public service.
“I never had the privilege of meeting your son, but I feel like I know him through your words and stories,” James said to Perez’s father. “Through this gift of friendship, I’ve come to know about his son. He was always about serving and protecting others. He was about the rules and believed in the rules.”
James said Perez’s desire to become a law-enforcement officer began when he saw his father return home in a security officer’s uniform, and it only grew when his father bought him a police scanner.
Cole said from 2012 to 2016, 73 crashes have been related to move-over violations and have killed two civilians, injured 24 officers and 32 civilians.
“The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund has said vehicle crashes have take more officers’ lives in the line of duty than being shot has,” he said. “We can only hope that as people drive past, they’ll look it up and remember it and it puts a name with the reason these signs are up there so he’ll be able to live on and again, hopefully preventing another tragedy.”