Mother of fallen state trooper shares son’s story

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By ANDREW RICHARD­SON arichard­son@somd­news.com

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.

SUBMITTED PHOTO

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.

SUBMITTED PHO­TOS

A col­lec­tion of family pho­tos fea­tur­ing Shaft Hunter in his early years.

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