BURLINGTON — For Washington State Patrol troopers, the new I-5 bridge over the Skagit River is a symbol of service and of sacrifice.
At a chilly ceremony in Burlington on Friday morning, politicians and police from throughout Western Washington gathered to rename the bridge in honor of Sean O’Connell.
O’Connell, a 38-year-old motorcycle trooper from Lake Stevens, died May 31 while working traffic control days after the former bridge collapsed into the river.
A spray of blue and yellow flowers, a shiny new police motorcycle and the veiled highway sign accompanied the ceremony Friday on the banks of the Skagit River. The thumps of cars and trucks crossing the bridge could be heard overhead.
Snohomish County Executive John Lovick knew O’Connell from his time in the patrol. He also spoke at O’Connell’s funeral at Comcast Arena in Everett in June.
“He was probably the best man I ever met in this world,” Lovick said before Friday’s ceremony. “It’s a tremendous honor for him and his family. I still think about him every day.”
Speakers on Friday included Gov. Jay Inslee, state Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, state Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, state Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, and Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste. They said they would think of O’Connell whenever they drive over the bridge. They also thanked the community and each other for making the renaming possible.
“We wanted to do something not just symbolic but something that mattered, because his service mattered,” Morris said.
O’Connell’s colleagues are trying to remember him not for how he died but how he lived his life, Batiste said. They are thankful for the time they had with him, and the joy he brought, Batiste said.
After the ceremony, people hugged, shivering in long coats, gloves and knit caps. Many stopped to speak privately with O’Connell’s wife and children, who had front-row seats.
Everett Deputy Police Chief Jim Lever, who previously worked for the State Patrol, said O’Connell was admired and loved.
“He was just a positive, great person,” Lever said. “We’ll always miss him.”
Several of the troopers wore hats embroidered with O’Connell’s badge number — 1076.
People took turns scribbling notes in permanent marker on the back of the unveiled sign. Some troopers signed their messages with their own badge numbers.
One note read: “Rest In Peace Brother.”
Rikki King: 425-339-3449, firstname.lastname@example.org.