On Sept. 17, 1984, a young patrolman with the Essex County Police Department, Daniel Smith, pulled a driver over near the Oakwood Avenue overpass along I-280 in East Orange. What happened next was a tragic reminder that even routine police work is often dangerous: the driver pulled a gun, shooting and killing the third-generation law enforcement officer, who had joined the force just the year before.
The perpetrator was later caught and is serving a life sentence.
Now, decades later, officials gathered to unveil a memorial to Patrolman Daniel "Danny" J. Smith's sacrifice.
Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura and others helped unveil the memorial Wednesday to the 27-year-old officer, a Bloomfield native survived by his wife Patricia and sister Margaret Smith Harvey.
The memorial marker dedicates a section of the highway from mile marker 11.1 to mile marker 12.4 in East Orange to Smith's memory.
"Smith's commitment and willingness to serve cannot be forgotten, and this highway marker will keep his memory alive and remind the public of his ultimate sacrifice," DiVincenzo said.
"Danny's friends and colleagues never forgot and every September 17th there are telephone calls, emails and text messages," said Captain Peter Corbo of the Essex County Sheriff's Office who spoke on behalf of Smith's family.
"It gives me great pride in knowing that the thousands of people driving on Route 280 will see these signs and know Danny Smith was a trues Essex County hero," he added.
"[A]s we approach the 35th anniversary of this tragic event, it is important that we never lose sight of what happened. In that spirit of remembrance, I'm gratified that this section of Route 280 will forever be known as the Officer Daniel J. Smith Memorial Site," Fontoura said.
The Essex County Police Department was merged with the sheriff's office in 1994.
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