Interchange renamed to honor fallen Aiken deputy
Police sirens wailed in the distance on Interstate 20 as Chief J.B. Bledsoe of the Salley Police Department finished a prayer on Friday morning.
The shrill, eerie sound was later called very appropriate by State Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, who spearheaded a bill to have Exit 22 of I-20 named after Aiken County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jason Sheppard, who was killed in the line of duty on Dec. 7, 2006. A ceremony marking the renaming was held on Friday morning at Faith Riders Fellowship Church.
Sheppard was directing traffic at the scene of an industrial fire on U.S. Highway 1, not far from the interstate, when he was struck by an SUV. He’d been an officer for about two years.
The interchange near where Sheppard was killed has been named in his honor: Deputy Jason L. Sheppard Interchange. Two signs marking the memorial are located in both lanes of I-20, and two signs in either direction on U.S. 1 will soon be erected.
Dozens of officers from surrounding law enforcement agencies were on hand to honor Sheppard on Friday.
“Jason decided to stop and help that day,” Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt said to the crowd. “This is just another example of a police officer in this county, day in and day out, doing what they do best.”
Sheppard’s widow, Shelley Fulmer, was presented with a resolution from the legislature designating the interchange’s name, as well as a replica of the green road sign.
“The dedication of this portion of highway serves as a reminder to the citizens of Aiken County, and to all the residents of the state of South Carolina, of Jason’s selfless act of service on that fateful day,” Fulmer said.
Hunt said after the ceremony that the dedication of the interchange brings closure to Sheppard’s family.
“But also, it’s a good reminder of what these folks do for us day in and day out,” he said. “Jason gave the ultimate sacrifice and, basically, his family did, too. He came to work that morning, doing the job he’d always done, never expecting he would not go home to his family that day.”
Fulmer contacted Taylor last year about having the interchange dedicated. He drafted a resolution that was approved by the House and the Senate, and after getting clearance from the Department of Transportation, the signs were made.
“Shelley has worked with me all the way through the process,” Taylor said. “You don’t do one of these right afterward.”
Fulmer said she’s wanted to see this type of dedication to Sheppard’s memory since shortly after his death.
“It’s a feeling of happiness that after so many years it’s finally gotten done,” she said. “I don’t want the citizens of Aiken County to ever forget Jason’s ultimate sacrifice. It just seems like people forget too quickly.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.