Slain Kentucky trooper remembered as hero at funeral

AP News
|
Posted: Sep 18, 2015 6:46 PM
Slain Kentucky trooper remembered as hero at funeral

ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. (AP) — A slain Kentucky state trooper was eulogized Friday as a hero for how he lived his life as hundreds of law officers paid their respects to the first-year lawman killed during a high-speed chase.

Police officers from across Kentucky and the country filed past the coffin of Joseph Cameron Ponder. Columns of officers later stood at attention outside a Baptist church as the coffin was placed in a hearse for Ponder's burial in a veterans cemetery.

Outside, a giant U.S. flag hoisted by fire truck ladders was on display as mourners gathered.

"This loss is enormous to family, friends and co-workers," Ponder's stepfather, Allan Tiffany, said during the service.

At the veterans cemetery, Ponder's flag-draped casket was pulled on a horse-drawn caisson. It was accompanied by officers on horseback and a riderless horse.

Bagpipers played "Amazing Grace," and helicopters flew overhead to honor Ponder.

State police comrades and other law officers saluted as taps was played.

Hundreds of people lined the highway as a hearse carried Ponder's body to the cemetery after the funeral.

Many people held American flags. Others placed their right hands over their hearts, and others held signs honoring Ponder.

Police cars with their lights flashing stretched for miles as part of the funeral procession.

At the funeral, Tiffany said his family has the utmost respect for law enforcement and urged public support for police.

"This family is behind you 100 percent, even in our suffering," Tiffany said in his eulogy. "This senseless onslaught of our law enforcement must stop."

Ponder, a decorated Navy veteran, had been on the state police force less than a year when he was fatally shot Sunday night in western Kentucky.

Ponder had made a traffic stop and was trying to arrange for lodging for the vehicle's occupants when the driver took off, starting a tragic chain of events that led to the death of Ponder and the suspect.

Ponder, 31, was shot a short time later during a second stop along a rural stretch of Interstate 24. The suspect, 25-year-old Joseph Thomas Johnson-Shanks of Florissant, Missouri, ran away and was found after an overnight manhunt in a wooded area Monday morning less than a mile from where the trooper was gunned down, police said.

Johnson-Shanks drew a weapon at police, ignored commands to drop the weapon and was shot, police said. He died later at a hospital.

Ponder was white, and Johnson-Shanks was black. The shooting came amid a nationwide debate over issues of trust between law enforcement and minority communities.

Ponder made the initial stop because the suspect was driving 103 mph, police said. The chase reached speeds of 115 mph.

A passenger in the vehicle, 18-year-old Ambrea Shanks of Florissant, Missouri, was charged with first-degree hindering prosecution or apprehension. The Paducah Sun reports that she pleaded not guilty Thursday in Caldwell District Court in Princeton.

According to WSIL-TV, Johnson-Shanks was on probation after pleading guilty last year to drug charges in Franklin County, Illinois.

Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer said at Friday's funeral that Ponder had a "patriotic calling to serve God and country."

"Trooper Cameron Ponder was a hero in the true sense of the word, not just because of how he died but more importantly how he lived his life," Brewer said. "He lived a life full of purpose and meaning and direction and sacrifice."

Ponder was remembered as a standout athlete, especially excelling in track, as an avid hunter and fisherman and for his crushing handshakes.

It was one of those handshakes and Ponder's eye contact during it that made a first impression when Brewer met him near the end of Ponder's police training.

"I'm trying to act real cool because I'm commissioner, but I'm telling you, the man almost took me to my knees," Brewer said in recalling that meeting.

Meanwhile, state police asked on Friday morning that a recording of the fatal chase be taken off the Internet. Ponder is heard on the recording calling out that he was shot and needed assistance.

State police said an Internet-based scanning service, not affiliated with KSP, recorded the radio transmission and uploaded the audio file to YouTube in a video format.

YouTube denied a request by state police to remove the video, said state police Sgt. Michael Webb.

"We do not want this man's last dying words to play out in the public media out of respect for his family," Webb said Friday.