Bills to name 36 for Bergeron in works

State Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, presents a bill that would name the stretch of state Highway 36 that runs through Maplewood in honor of Sgt. Joe Bergeron, who died in the line of duty May 1, 2010. Next to him sits the widow of the slain officer, Gail, and Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
State Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, presents a bill that would name the stretch of state Highway 36 that runs through Maplewood in honor of Sgt. Joe Bergeron, who died in the line of duty May 1, 2010. Next to him sits the widow of the slain officer, Gail, and Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
As the funeral procession for Sgt. Joe Bergeron wound through North St. Paul and Maplewood, this young boy held up a handmade memorial. (file photo)
As the funeral procession for Sgt. Joe Bergeron wound through North St. Paul and Maplewood, this young boy held up a handmade memorial. (file photo)
This memorial is located on St. Paul’s East Side near the spot where Bergeron was fatally shot along a recreational trail near Lake Phalen in 2010. (file photo)
This memorial is located on St. Paul’s East Side near the spot where Bergeron was fatally shot along a recreational trail near Lake Phalen in 2010. (file photo)
Supporters of the bill memorializing a segment of Highway 36 in honor of slain Maplewood Sgt. Joseph Bergeron, surround Bergeron’s widow, Gail, after the hearing on Wednesday. Rep. Leon Lillie, DFL-North St. Paul; Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury; Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood; Rep. JoAnn Ward, DFL-Woodbury; and Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell anticipate the bill will have strong bipartisan support on the state Senate floor. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Supporters of the bill memorializing a segment of Highway 36 in honor of slain Maplewood Sgt. Joseph Bergeron, surround Bergeron’s widow, Gail, after the hearing on Wednesday. Rep. Leon Lillie, DFL-North St. Paul; Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury; Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood; Rep. JoAnn Ward, DFL-Woodbury; and Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell anticipate the bill will have strong bipartisan support on the state Senate floor. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Sgt. Joe Bergeron
Sgt. Joe Bergeron

A welcomed, emotional tribute nearly five years after Bergeron's death

On May 1, 2010, Maplewood Police Sgt. Joseph Bergeron responded to reports of a carjacking and was fatally shot by an armed suspect. Community members and his fellow officers banded together, in support of his wife Gail and two teenage daughters who were profoundly impacted by the loss.

Nearly five years later, as his girls prepare to graduate from high school, the introduction of a new memorial for their father comes at an emotional time for the family.

Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, presented legislation on Wednesday, March 25, at the state Capitol that would name the stretch of Minnesota Highway 36 that runs through Maplewood the

"Sergeant Joseph Bergeron Memorial Highway."

"It's an honor to carry this bill for the city of Maplewood. Sergeant Bergeron bravely and dutifully served his community for 26 years. The naming of Highway 36 in his honor is a small gesture of gratitude to his family for Bergeron's sacrifice," Wiger, the bill’s chief author, said during the hearing before the Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee.

Gail said she and her girls prefer to grieve in private, but added that the highway memorial is a welcomed tribute.

"Joe was a real humble guy. He didn't need to be recognized, and that's kind of how we are as a family," she said.

"Even though for us, as a family, it's kind of like ripping that wound open again, if it helps people remember, then the girls and I will do what we can to keep it in the forefront of people's minds."

Seated next to Gail during the hearing, Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell spoke on the impact Bergeron's death had on the community and the police force.

"We'll never forget the sacrifice of Bergeron and his family," he said, noting the highway memorial would serve "as an active reminder" to all who drive along it.

A life of service

The 49-year-old officer was ambushed and killed at approximately 7 a.m., near the intersection of English Street and Arlington Avenue in St. Paul. Upon exiting his patrol car to question two 21-year-old men about a recent carjacking, one of the suspects approached him and opened fire.

A jogger heard the gunshots and rushed to the scene, and reported what he'd witnessed. In the ensuing manhunt, suspect Jason Jones attacked East Side St. Paul police officer David Longbehn.

Jones was shot and killed by Longbehn.

The other suspect, Joshua Michael Martin, was arrested and pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting intentional second-degree murder charges. He was sentenced to more than 34 years in prison and is incarcerated at the Stillwater Correctional Facility.

Bergeron had served with the Maplewood Police Department for 26 years. He was a gentle, quiet, strong man with a good sense of humor who loved his family and his job, said Cheryl Dinderman, Gail's aunt, at the time of Bergeron's funeral.

"When people needed help, they called my uncle Joe," Chaska police officer Mike Duzan had said during the eulogy at the funeral. "He was larger than life, and I wanted to be just like him."  

Marking the one-year anniversary of Bergeron's death, a bronze statue memorial and plaque were unveiled outside City Hall. A couple months later, his name was added to the National Law Enforcement Memorial wall in Washington, D.C.

'A debt of gratitude'

Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, co-author of the bill, spoke at the hearing on Wednesday as well.

"We come together with the greater Maplewood community today to honor Sgt. Joseph Bergeron and his family, who have had to deal with so much in his absence. Today is about remembering Bergeron for the life he led and for his sacrifice," she said.

A number of area legislators backing the bill were quoted in a press release.

"It is an honor to carry this legislation," said Rep. Leon Lillie, DFL-North St. Paul, the bill's chief author in the House. "Every day, our law enforcement and first response officers put their lives on the line to protect us. Sergeant Bergeron made the ultimate sacrifice carrying out his duties as a police officer — protecting those he served. We owe him a debt of gratitude. He was a father and a husband, and he will not be forgotten."

"It is important at times like this that we come together as a community with respect and support for Sergeant Bergeron and his family," said Rep. JoAnn Ward, DFL-Woodbury. "His family experienced a great loss and this is the least we can do to honor his legacy."

"There is no single act we can do that will do justice to the sacrifice he made for us," added Rep. Peter Fischer, DFL-Maplewood. "This is one small thing we can do to remember him and those who give their lives to protect us."

The committee passed the bill unanimously and referred it to the Senate floor, where it is expected to receive strong bipartisan support.

Wiger said he anticipates the Senate version of the bill will be heard in the Minnesota Senate by April 10, since the Legislature is taking an Easter-Passover recess this week.

In an act of solidarity, on the behalf of Bergeron's family and the Maplewood community, Schnell encouraged committee members to consider a similar bill on the day's agenda, honoring slain Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick, who was gunned down during a routine traffic stop in West St. Paul this past July.  

Erin Hinrichs can be reached at 651-748-7814 and ehinrichs@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/EHinrichsNews.
 

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