ONE LAST STOP
It’s taken thirty years for Matt Savage to be able to talk about what happened to his father.
“I shut out a lot of my memories just because they hurt,” he told NBC Connecticut’s Heidi Voight.
“Even now I say one word about him, I can feel my heart jumping out of my chest.”
In 1982, Trooper James Savage was one of the first troopers on scene when his colleague Lt. Thomas Carney was killed on I-84 in Southbury. Four years later, he would become Connecticut’s next fallen trooper.
On January 22, 1986, Savage was on the way home at the end of his shift when he made one last traffic stop on Rt 8 in Watertown. He was just fifteen minutes from home.
Police investigation reports detail what happened next:
“TFC James H. Savage, age 42… walking from his unmarked cruiser back to the non-contact car parked behind him. He was holding Claffey’s license and registration certificate in his hand. He was about halfway between the two cars, on the marked shoulder, walking towards oncoming traffic when struck by the right front of Veh. #2 – Williams. He was thrown onto the rear deck of his cruiser.”
Transcripts of the radio calls reveal the frantic first moments: “Trooper is down… we got a Trooper hit northbound, half a mile from 38.”
Another voice responds: “Got to be Savage, doesn’t he have a car pulled over?”
James Savage was a father of five, known by family, friends and coworkers for his signature boisterous laugh. The 42-year-old played drums and love metal music, which came as a surprise to some.
“I don’t think he ever once said a curse word,” Matt recalled.
His father, he said, was his idol. So much so that he wanted to follow in his footsteps as a police officer. Matt attended a police academy in southwest Florida until he received a phone call from his mother asking him to reconsider.
“She lost our father, he was gone,” he said. “She didn’t want to lose me that way.”
Today, at 50 years old, Matt has already outlived his father by eight years. He works in carpentry and has moved back to his native Bristol. Holding his father’s portrait in his hands, the resemblance between father and son is striking.
“I think the biggest compliment I get anytime I hear about him is that I look like him. And that’s probably the best compliment I could ever get.”
MOVE OVER CT
There was no Move Over Law in 1986. The driver who hit Savage, a traveling salesman, was described by family in police reports as being a “very safe and conscientious driver” with no prior record. According to Matt, the family requested leniency, and the driver wasn’t charged.
Connecticut’s Move Over Law was passed in 2009 and expanded in 2012. It requires drivers on any road two lanes or wider to move over or significantly slow down for emergency vehicles with flashing lights – not just police cruisers, but fire/EMS crews, DOT trucks and construction crews, and even commercial tow vehicles. Fines start at $188 and range up to $10,000 in cases of injury or death.
Savage says it’s a simple thing drivers can do to help another family avoid the pain of his own tragic loss.
“Slow down, move over. And don't be the reason that that person doesn't get to go home tonight and see their family.”
NOTE: Since stepping up enforcement on February 22nd 2016, as of 9:30 a.m. March 3rd state police have issued 392 tickets for violation of the Move Over Law.