03/30/06 — Bridge dedicated in memory of Best

View Archive

Bridge dedicated in memory of Best

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on March 30, 2006 1:47 PM

Wayne County Sheriff's Capt. Jerry K. Best, who was struck and killed by a passing motorist in 2002 as he tried to remove a deer carcass from a road, was remembered as a man who touched many lives.

Now his legacy will endure forever with the naming of the new U.S. 117 bridge over U.S. 70, or West Grantham Street, in his memory.

The bridge was dedicated Wednesday by state Department of Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett during a ceremony at the Wayne Center.

Best Memorial

News-Argus/Bobby Williams

Wayne County Sheriff's Capt. Jerry Best's wife, Donna, accepts a copy of the plaque that will honor her husband at the U.S. 117 bridge over U.S. 70. Presenting the mini-sign to her is state Department of Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett.

Best's widow, Donna, said there was "overwhelming public support" to name the bridge for him. She thanked the more than 1,300 people who petitioned the state for the name.

Sheriff Carey Winders said the bridge dedication was for a law-enforcement officer and a friend.

Best, an officer for 25 years, was 48 when he was struck Nov. 13, 2002, on N.C. 581 near O'Berry Center. A driver had hit a deer, and Best got out of his unmarked patrol car and shot the deer to put it out of its misery.

Winders said Best was a dedicated law-enforcement officer who loved his work and was loyal to the three sheriffs for whom he worked.

Winders said that as their friendship grew, each could read the other like a book. Best knew the sheriff liked to get involved in investigations. One night Best asked Winders to stake out a house because of a string of residential break-ins. The sheriff said the only people he saw going into and out of the house were Wilson County sheriff's detectives.

"I soon realized he wanted to get me out of his hair," Winders said.

The sheriff said he confronted him the next day, and Best said, "Boss, you know I wouldn't do that."

Best joined the Sheriff's Office in 1977, working as a bailiff for Sheriff Will Adams. He was promoted to a patrol deputy and became a drug enforcement officer for Sheriff James Sasser. In 1994, Winders promoted Best to a detective. Best was named captain and chief investigator in 1999.

The sheriff's three daughters also took part in the program. Carianne sang the national anthem. Jessica and Ashley performed their own dance in Best's memory.

County Commission Chairman Atlas Price said the dedication was a fitting memorial. Like many, he called the 6-foot-3-inch, 300-pound Best a gentle giant who loved his family.

Tippett said he has attended far too many bridge and highway memorial services for slain law-enforcement officers "who made the ultimate sacrifice while protecting their neighbors and friends. ... They put their lives on the line to make sure our highway system is safe, to pursue criminals, respond to accidents and remove dangerous obstructions from the roads. North Carolina relies on these brave men and women."

Tippett noted that Best gained nationwide attention for clearing an innocent man, Terrance Garner of Dudley, from a robbery conviction and 43-year sentence.

"That's the goal of every law-enforcement officer in this room," Tippett said.

That case, the secretary said, is being taught around the country, keeping Best's memory alive for future generations.

"Like Best, U.S. 117 is in the heart of Wayne County and in the daily lives of its citizens," Tippett said. "It's truly a pleasure for me to dedicate this bridge in honor of Jerry Best. It's another opportunity to honor his legacy for future generations. Those who travel it will remember the life of a true Tar Heel hero."

Tippett then presented a miniature bridge sign to Best's widow.