WILKES COUNTY — The atmosphere was one of somber respect as family, friends, law enforcement, government officials and the community gathered Friday to say their final farewell to Trooper Samuel Bullard.
Bullard, 24, of Ronda and a three-year veteran of the North Carolina Highway Patrol who was assigned to Surry County, died Monday night on I-77 in Jonesville when his patrol car left the roadway and hit a bridge support during a chase. He was pursuing a suspect who had run a checkpoint.
Following the two-and-a-half hour time for visitation at the John Walker Center on Wilkes Community College’s main campus Friday, a North Carolina Highway Patrol mounted caisson led by a bagpipe player carried Bullard’s casket to the front of the Walker Center where it would enter the building for the funeral service.
Joining his parents, siblings, fiancée and other family members for the service was Gov. Roy Cooper. Following the funeral Cooper shared his thoughts and emotions, as well as his comments to the family expressing the state’s thanks for Bullard’s service and sacrifice.
“I also presented them with North Carolina flags and ordered that flags across the state be flown at half staff in honor of Trooper Bullard,” he said. “Of course, they’re heartbroken, all of the patrol is, his friends, but we are deeply grateful for his service and sacrifice.
“This was an extraordinary young man who worked very hard and did what he was supposed to do,” Cooper said.
Elkin businessman and Commissioner Jeff Eidson attended the visitation and said, “There was a tremendous, almost unbelievable outpouring of community for the service, but the demonstration of brotherhood from law enforcement was even more impressive.
“In addition to hundreds of North Carolina State Highway Patrol troopers and officers from dozens of area police departments, there were representatives from Virginia State Police, California Highway Patrol, Michigan State Police and many other states as well.”
He said the outpouring “gives me renewed faith in humanity.”
Once the funeral service ended, a 45-minute procession of law enforcement and emergency vehicles and invited family and friends followed the hearse carrying Bullard’s remains from the college to Macedonia Baptist Church in Ronda for a private burial.
Community members joined officials from fire departments and emergency services agencies from around the region and beyond along the sides of the roadways and overpasses to wave American flags as the funeral procession traveled to the church.
The procession included law enforcement representatives from Indiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Apex, Boone, Mooresville, Pineville, Hillsville, Virginia, Missouri, Cornelius, Raleigh and more, as well as local members from Elkin, Dobson, Surry County, Yadkin County and Wilkes County.
Courtney Anderson and Caitlyn Macemore waited on the procession in front of East Wilkes High School where they graduated from in 2016 along with Bullard’s sister, Olivia. They had gone early to the Walker Center for visitation, but due to the crowd, were unable to reach their friend in the line.
“We’re here to show our support to Olivia and provide as much support as possible,” Anderson said. “He was a good person, he makes you laugh. One time he flashed his lights at me just for the fun of it.”
Macemore said they also were there to show their “support for law enforcement and how important they are and the tragic loss they’ve suffered.”
Others along U.S. 421 shared their reasons for watching the procession.
“We came out to support our fallen hero, plus my son is on the fire department,” said Jamie Call. “We are out here with our support and to help the community come together.”
“I came out to show my support,” said Sarah Mizelle.
“We want to make sure that she understands that we need to honor a fallen hero,” said Rebecca Minton on why they wanted 5-year-old Beth Anne Minton to see the procession.
“We came out to support our fallen officer, and I think it will be a good life lesson for (Beth Anne),” said Anthony Minton.
“We just have a lot of heart and respect for the patriotism that the law does for a living,” said Steven Roe, who held a flag on U.S. 421. “What they do is priceless to me and I just wanted to be able to give back.”
“Every time you see a patrolman in law enforcement, you need to thank them,” said David Whitley, who was also holding a flag on the highway. “Pray for them and tell them to be safe. Buy them a cup of coffee or a meal.”
In the heart of Ronda, Allison and Ray Blackburn along with their daughter-in-law, Kimberly, and grandchildren waited on the procession to come through. Allison said their son, Elkin Police Officer Will Blackburn, were friends with Bullard and was taking part in the procession.
“We came out to pay our respects to the family,” said Allison.
Kimberly said it was important to “show support for all the law enforcement.”
Dakota Kape Whitt, 22, of Elkin, was arrested at a traffic stop on Wednesday and charged with murder in the case. He was also charged with felony fleeing to elude arrest in a motor vehicle and driving with a revoked license in connection to the incident.