A trooper with the Nebraska State Patrol was killed in a crash Thursday morning while on duty in Morrill County, according to a news release from the agency.
At about 7:45 a.m. local time, Trooper Jerry Smith was traveling on U.S. 26 about 2 miles west of Bridgeport when another driver crossed the center line and struck his patrol car head-on, according to Morrill County Sheriff Milo Cardenas.
Smith, 51, and the other driver, who hadn't been identified as of Thursday evening, were both pronounced dead at the scene.
Cardenas said the driver who collided with Smith's patrol car had swerved to avoid a third car that was stopped in the highway, waiting to turn left.
The crash remains under investigation by the Morrill County Sheriff’s Office and the Scotts Bluff County Sheriff’s Office.
Smith, of Scottsbluff, joined the state patrol in 2014 after serving in the Army from 1986 to 2011. He earned several honors during his military career, including a bronze star for his service in two tours of combat in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Graduating at the age of 47, he is believed to be the oldest recruit to complete the state patrol's basic recruit camp. He was stationed in Scottsbluff as part of Troop E for his entire state patrol career. He is survived by his wife and two adult children.
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Troop E Capt. Kurt Von Minden said many of the younger troopers considered Smith a mentor despite his relatively short career with the state patrol.
"He’s going to be greatly missed by everyone here," Von Minden said. "None of us that are working today will every forget this day."
Smith is just the 12th trooper to die while on duty since the agency was formed in 1937, and the first since 1999. It's also first time since 1984 that a trooper has died in a car accident while on duty.
“This is a tragic day for the Nebraska State Patrol,” said Col. John Bolduc, patrol superintendent. “A family has lost a husband and a father. Our troopers have lost a colleague and a friend. Our state has lost a true public servant.”
Gov. Pete Ricketts ordered all U.S. and Nebraska flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of Smith until 5 p.m. on the day he is buried. Von Minden said funeral plans hadn't been finalized as of Thursday evening.
“Our state troopers selflessly put their lives on the line every day. The loss of Trooper Smith will be felt not only by the Nebraska State Patrol, but by the Panhandle and folks across the state. We ask all Nebraskans to join us in praying for his family and community as we honor Trooper Smith’s dedicated service and sacrifice,” Ricketts said in a news release.