For years Davidson honored the town’s only police officer killed in the line of duty with a marble plaque outside Town Hall and, at Christmas, a single tree hung with blue lights.
As the 20th anniversary of officer Mark Swaney’s death on Christmas Day 1997 drew near, town officials thought of a more prominent gesture: naming the Interstate 77 bridge at the Davidson exit, the gateway to town, in his honor.
But the Department of Transportation has rejected the proposal because Swaney was a municipal employee. If Davidson wants to honor the officer, it says, it should do so on town-maintained property such as by renaming Griffith Street, which crosses the bridge.
DOT criteria say naming of state structures is limited to state or county law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, or civilians who die while aiding others.
“Typically with municipal officials, including law enforcement, we defer to the municipality to find a municipally-owned bridge or street they maintain,” DOT spokeswoman Jen Thompson said. “Unfortunately, we receive so many requests like this and have a limited number of assets that can be dedicated.”
If Swaney had been killed on the bridge, Thompson said, that would have been a factor in favor of the town’s request. Davidson is free to reapply, she said.
Davidson Police Chief Penny Dunn called the decision, which was verbally relayed to her by a district engineer, oddly narrow.
“There should be consideration for any first responders who give their lives in the line of duty,” Dunn said. “We don’t ever want to forget that sacrifice.”
Dunn applied for the bridge dedication in October at the suggestion of longtime police Sgt. Scott Searcy, who worked with Swaney. Searcy’s own grandfather, a state trooper killed in the line of duty, has an I-40 bridge in Catawba County named for him.
Swaney, 26, was shot when he responded to a fight in a quiet Davidson neighborhood. A second officer was also shot but survived. The officers shot dead the teenager who had fired at them.
As a Davidson police officer, Swaney had focused on drug enforcement and working with young people, the department said. He had volunteered to work that Christmas Day so a fellow officer could be home with his children.
His sister, Gina Swaney Bouknight, thanked Searcy and the police department for their effort.
“Mark died doing what he loved,” she said in a statement. “He always wanted to be a police officer from the time he was a small child, following in his father’s footsteps. He was the type of person that would give you the shirt off his back. He loved the Davidson community and did his best as a guardian for all her citizens.”