WILKESBORO — Samuel Newton Bullard was remembered Friday at his funeral at Wilkes Community College as a dedicated state trooper who loved his fiancée and his job.
“We owe Trooper Bullard, and those who love him and miss him our gratitude for his service and his sacrifice,” N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper said at the service in the college’s Walker Community Center. “In his memory, we must continue to work for safer highways and more peaceful communities.”
Bullard, 24, was killed Monday night when he wrecked his patrol car as he and another trooper with the N.C. Highway Patrol were chasing a suspect who fled a driver’s license checkpoint in Surry County.
About 1,600 people, including hundreds of troopers, local and regional law enforcement officers, and Bullard’s family members and friends, filled the Walker Center for his funeral. A native of Wilkes County, Bullard graduated from East Wilkes High School in 2011.
Before the ceremony, a horse-drawn caisson carried Bullard’s casket to the Walker Center. About 1,000 troopers and law enforcement officers, including highway patrol troopers and state police offices from 14 states stood quietly at attention in ranks as a squad of state troopers took the casket into the Walker Center. They placed the casket on a stage next to Bullard’s photograph.
Outside, rain fell on the officers as they stood in line and walked inside the Walker Center for Bullard’s funeral.
Cooper said that grieving mourners at the funeral asked themselves why Bullard died. Before he spoke, the governor stopped briefly at Bullard’s casket, which was covered by an N.C. flag.
“Why are we here today mourning the loss of a vital young man instead of celebrating another milestone with him, the wedding he was planning with his fiancée, Michelle Mathis, in just a few months?” Cooper asked.
Bullard and Mathis planned to be married in August, according to news reports.
“Our shared faith, which I know Trooper Bullard had, may not provide the exact answer, but it provides us assurance and a path to follow,” Cooper said.
Bullard’s life and death remind people of the hard work of thousands of state troopers and other law enforcement officers that they do daily across the state, the governor said. They risk their lives to keep state residents safe, Cooper said.
“Trooper Bullard stepped up and not only did something, he did something extraordinary,” Cooper said. “He became a N.C. State Highway Patrol trooper, and he made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Col. Glenn McNeill Jr., the commander of the highway patrol, told the mourners that Bullard joined the highway patrol in June 2015. As a cadet, Bullard served as the physical fitness sergeant for his fellow recruits.
“Trooper Bullard had the demeanor, bearing and discipline as a state trooper and a law enforcement officer,” McNeill said. “He served with excellence.”
McNeill said that the highway patrol will always support Bullard’s family.
Bullard was one of two troopers pursuing a black BMW south on Interstate 77 from Surry County into Yadkin County Monday night, the N.C. Highway Patrol said.
Near mile marker 88, the lead trooper, P.E. Ellis, noticed that Bullard’s patrol car was no longer behind him, the highway patrol said. When Ellis tried to radio Bullard and didn’t receive a response, he broke off the chase and turned around to look for Bullard. He came upon the trooper’s wrecked patrol car and found Bullard dead.
The patrol said Bullard crashed his vehicle at 10:53 p.m., shortly after the chase began, going off the right side of the road and striking a bridge support at mile marker 80.
Dakota Kape Whitt, 22, was arrested Wednesday after a search by state and local authorities, N.C. Department of Public Safety said. Whitt was charged with murder, felony fleeing to elude arrest in a motor vehicle and driving with a revoked license. Whitt was being held in the Wilkes County Jail with no bond allowed, authorities said this week.
The Rev. Victor Church spoke to the mourners Friday about the heartache that Bullard’s family, his fiancée and her family are experiencing. Bullard was a loving, caring and kind man, Church said.
Church later read passages from a devotion book that Mathis gave him about her fiancé.
Bullard proposed to Mathis at her grandparents’ home on April Fools’ Day, Church said. Mathis laughed, cried and finally said ‘yes’ to Bullard’s proposal, Church said, quoting from her book.
“He was extremely proud to have you by his side,” Church said to Mathis.
After Bullard died, Mathis wrote her fiancé a letter, which Church shared with the mourners.
“You are the love of my life,” Mathis wrote in part to Bullard. “You helped me to become a better Christian.”
As a state trooper, Bullard loved his job and was dedicated to it, Church said. Bullard was part of the family of the highway patrol who “sacrificed his life through his job,” Church said.
After the funeral, a nearly 400-vehicle procession of troopers, law enforcement officers and Bullard’s family members and friends traveled to Bullard’s burial at Macedonia Baptist Church in Ronda.
About 100 people gathered on Meadowview Drive and River Street to watch the procession travel through Wilkesboro.
Kayla Camenzind of Wilkes County said she stood to watch Bullard’s funeral procession because Bullard was a Wilkesboro native.
“We all knew people who knew him,” Camenzind said. “He’s was part of the community, and he supported us.”