Mother of fallen state trooper shares son’s story
For the surviving family of fallen Maryland State Police Tfc. Shaft Hunter, whose watch ended six years ago after a deadly crash, the month of May is especially difficult.
Hunter, 39, a father of six children who served for 11 years with the agency after retiring as a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps, died May 21, 2011, after colliding with an illegally parked tractor trailer, according to police records and family. He had been pursuing a speeding motorcyclist around 2:40 a.m.
on I-95 in Jessup.
His mother, Princella Hunter of White Plains, received a standing ovation after speaking at this year’s Fallen Hero’s Ceremony at the Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, where she shared treasured memories of her son — a man repeatedly recognized for his selfless service and leadership throughout his career and personal life.
Princella said her message as the ceremony’s “survivor speaker” was that the safety enjoyed by the public is not free.
“Somebody is paying a price for it,” she said. “The families, the survivors, are living every day without their loved ones. But their loved ones probably wouldn’t change a thing, because that’s their calling. It’s their calling to go out there and protect.”
Shaft, a two-time state champion running back at St. Joseph’s High School in Trumbull, Conn., was never idle for long.
“I called him my action figure,” Princella said. “He did not want to be bored.”
After graduating from St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, N.C., Shaft enlisted in the Marine Corps and was distinguished as an “honor grad” — an award given to just one Marine in each graduating company — after completing boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. Before long, Shaft entered Officer Candidate School and was later stationed at Camp Lejeune, where he lived in officer’s housing.
A memory especially dear to her, Princella recalled a special Thanksgiving spent on the base. Shaft had asked her to help prepare a turkey dinner for his men who couldn’t make it home for the holiday.
“What a joy it was to have dinner with approximately a dozen of his men that couldn’t go home, to have them at the house to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, a home-cooked meal,” she said. “My son has brought me wonderful memories, wonderful memories, and that was one of them.”
After six years in the Marine Corps, Shaft retired and entered the Maryland State Police academy, where he was elected by his peers as class president of the 114th graduating class. He later became a K-9 handler with his partner “Bear.” Among several awards accumulated through his career, he was once recognized as trooper of the year and was nominated for The Baltimore Sun “Police Officer of the Year” award after saving the life of a man whose car crashed and careened off the road into the Patuxent River. The nomination form, preserved in a binder by the family, states that after he assisted an injured trooper, he jumped into the water to shatter the vehicle’s window and kept the man’s head above water until assistance arrived, despite the risk posed by fire and leaking gasoline.
“And that’s the son I knew,” Princella said, reflecting on the rescue. “That’s the action figure I knew.”
Shaft was also known for his kindness away from the job. When not on duty, Shaft volunteered his time coaching youth football for the Laurel Hurricanes, mentoring children as a positive role model.
After the accident, when his family was clearing out his townhouse in Reisterstown, Princella was approached by an elderly woman who asked if Shaft had been her son. The woman shared with the grieving mother that one day she had accidentally dropped her keys into a Dumpster while taking out the trash. Luckily for her, Shaft was nearby and noticed her in distress.
“She said, ‘Your son did not hesitate.’ He immediately jumped into the Dumpster, and came out smiling with her keys in his hand,” Princella said. “… We were blessed. He was a good kid, and a great man.”
On the anniversary of his death, Princella and her husband, Sherman, brought a couple dozen doughnuts for the troopers assigned to the Waterloo Barracks in Howard County, as they do every year. Outside the barracks is a memorial for their son and another fallen trooper.
“They have been supportive. They have been so supportive,” she said of her son’s fellow troopers. “There are some that have truly become part of the family, and they’re here today for us. Even up until today, they are there for us.
“When I think about all of the law enforcement that are out there every day, that are out there doing everything they can to keep us safe, that’s where my heart goes.”
On her shirt, Princella wears a commemorate pin with a belt loop taken from her son’s trooper-issued pants.
“I wear it every day,” she said. “It gives me an opportunity to talk about my son, and it gives me an opportunity to talk about others, men and women who have paid that ultimate price, who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Next to the badgeshaped pin is another — a guardian angel. Her son, she said, continues to watch over her from above.
Princella Hunter, a White Plains resident, received a standing ovation at the Fallen Hero’s Day ceremony in Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens after sharing memories of her son, Shaft Hunter, a Maryland State Trooper who was killed in a crash six years ago.
A collection of family photos featuring Shaft Hunter in his early years.