From helping clear wrecks on roadways to interacting with residents during meals at Subway in Amherst, Virginia State Police Trooper Lucas B. Dowell always had the same “sweet smile and twinkle in his pretty blue eyes,” said Steve Martin.
“Lucas Dowell’s first impression was awesome,” Martin said of his fallen friend who was killed Feb. 4 while serving in the line of duty in Cumberland County. “He was such a nice, sweet young man.”
A large crowd gathered at Amherst County High School’s auditorium Friday to celebrate the dedication of the “Trooper Lucas B. Dowell Bridge” on U.S. 29 Business over the U.S. 29 Bypass in Amherst. Martin, owner of Martin’s Paint & Body Shop in Amherst and chaplain of the Amherst Volunteer Fire Department, gathered more than 2,000 signatures in the weeks following Dowell’s death to have the bridge dedicated.
He said he always wants students at the high school when they cross the bridge to remember Dowell and how he gave his life in service to others. Martin prayed for several dozen law enforcement and public safety workers gathered to always return home safely from their shifts.
“I pray each day I never have to do this again,” he said while grieving the officer.
Dowell, 28, was killed while executing a search warrant on a home just north of Farmville as part of a state police tactical team assisting the Piedmont Regional Drug and Gang Task Force with a search of the home. A native of Chilhowie, Dowell had been living in Lynchburg and had became a trooper in 2014 after graduating from Radford University with a degree in criminal justice. He worked at the state police’s Area 20 office in Amherst and had strong ties to the community he served, said Col. Gary T. Settle, superintendent of Virginia State Police.
Dowell’s parents, Mike and Becky, and sister Erica took part in unveiling the bridge sign during the ceremony. Becky Dowell thanked the community for its kindness and generosity in remembering her son and thanked anyone wearing a uniform.
“Lucas loved the people here in Amherst and this area,” Becky Dowell said. “He considered this his home.”
She said the bridge will serve as a permanent reminder for Lucas’s life.
“He will never be forgotten,” Settle said.
Lucas’s smile, compassion and sense of humor made a lasting impression on many who knew him and the law enforcement community wants to ensure his legacy continues, Settle said. The fallen trooper had an eagerness to live life to the fullest and upheld the state police standards to the highest mark, Settle said, adding Lucas’s true passion and pride was for his fellow tactical team members.
“He gave his life to ensure the safety of everyone around him,” Settle said.
Lucas is the only state police trooper to have two bridges named in his honor, according to Settle. On Nov. 1 another bridge will be dedicated in Smyth County, where he grew up.
Del. Ronnie Campbell, R-Rockbridge, a retired state police officer, said when he crosses the Amherst bridge in the future he will always think about that Feb. 5 day during the Virginia General Assembly session upon learning of Dowell’s death and how he was honored at the end of the day’s proceedings.
”Bridges are made from concrete and steel and it will last for generations,” Campbell said. “The naming of the bridge will allow our citizens to remember Lucas and that sacrifice should be remembered by all.”
Amherst Mayor Dwayne Tuggle, who retired from the Virginia State Police in 2015, said he had the privilege of meeting Lucas once and described him as a “fine gentleman.” He presented the Dowell family a town proclamation honoring their son and brother and recalled being at a little league event in Georgia shortly after Lucas’s death when a Chilhowie resident approached.
The Chilhowie resident said when Lucas was young his coach couldn’t pronounce his last name and kept saying “do well,” which became a mantra for the team, Tuggle said. “I think listening to everyone today, Lucas, you did do well,” he said.
Martin and some law enforcement officers wiped tears during parts of the ceremony. Amherst Sheriff E.W. Viar said he met Lucas and described him as “full of life.” The Amherst County Sheriff’s Office had two separate incidents occur in September 2017 and August 2018 when two deputies were shot and survived. Viar said they are harsh realities of the dangers of law enforcement.
“It’s scary,” Viar said. “You don’t know from day to day if you’re going to make it home.”
Amherst County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jimmy Ayers, a former Amherst sheriff of 20 years who retired in December 2015 after a 30-year career in law enforcement, said he knows firsthand how hard it is to find young people to serve in law enforcement.
“It is a dangerous profession, one that is often criticized and seldom thanked,” Ayers said. “Your hands touch and your eyes see what a human never should in a lifetime. And the pay is poor for the responsibility you accept ... Lucas stepped up to the plate to accept that responsibility.”
Ayers said Amherst is honored to have the bridge named after Lucas and to serve as a reminder he died while trying to make the community a safer place to live, work and raise a family.
“To Mr. and Mrs. Dowell, you raised a fine young man,” Ayers said. “He is our hero.”