Soul searcher

Rick Metcalf helps cops who fell in the good fight get to the other side

When the Hurst police cruiser pulled him over, Rick Metcalf remembered that he'd never replaced the license plate after it fell off the flatbed trailer he was towing. Metcalf wasn't concerned about a ticket, though. A towering bear of a man with a full beard, he doesn't get upset about much of anything.

"Boy, they were ready to bust my chops," Metcalf says.
Then the officers, coming from behind Metcalf's Chevy pickup, glanced at what was lying in the bed of the trailer--a six-foot-long slab of Georgia granite with this inscription:

We the people of the state of Texas acknowledge and thank Trooper Aubrey Lee Moore for the great sacrifice he made to keep the public safe. His efforts will stand the test of time. May God rest his soul.

"It was like throwing butter in the furnace," the 42-year-old Metcalf says with a deep laugh. Metcalf explained to the Hurst officers that he was in town to place two monuments for state Department of Public Safety troopers who died in the line of duty. The one in the trailer was for a highway patrolman who was killed in 1932. "They couldn't have been nicer," Metcalf recalls. "They said, 'It's a great thing. Keep up the good work.'

"Having just lost comrades in this area, I hope seeing the stone brought them some comfort," he says.

Since 1993, Metcalf, who lives in Lago Vista, has made it his mission to travel the state, placing granite monuments in memory of Texas Rangers and state troopers who were killed in the line of duty. Of the 72 troopers and rangers killed since 1910, Moore is the 30th for whom Metcalf has erected a monument.

His is a curious, one-man crusade that took root in 1991, when state trooper Carlos Warren stopped Metcalf for speeding on Texas Highway 71 southeast of Austin.

Metcalf, a heavy equipment mechanic, was struggling to build a house for his family at the time--but construction was going slowly because money was scarce. "I was thinking of my problems--not paying attention. I was as guilty as could be," Metcalf remembers. "I told him, 'Oh God, I can't afford this ticket.' Things were going rough for me--and somehow he knew this.

"He was telling me how it was a nice thing that I was trying to do for my family. Then he sent me on my way. Even shook my hand.

"It was only a short time later that I saw his face on the news. The word 'No' came out of me long and slow."

Warren had been shot three times in the back after surprising three men who had kidnapped a teenager. "That great lesson he taught me on the side of the road has changed my way of thinking about police officers," Metcalf says.

Metcalf didn't act on his lesson for years. "I'd been praying for him since it happened," Metcalf says. He visited the site of the trooper's shooting and prayed at a simple white cross Warren's wife had placed--like so many others along Texas roads commemorating vehicular death.

"It took a while for me to figure out what to do," he says. One day, three years after Warren fell, without informing anyone or getting permission from the DPS, the Texas Department of Transportation, or local authorities, Metcalf bought a slab of granite, had it engraved, and hauled it out to the scene of Warren's shooting in his pickup. He erected it next to the white cross. "I just felt like I owed him something."

Inspired--divinely, he believes--Metcalf looked up the names of other DPS troopers who had died on the job. He began driving the roads of Texas, unabashedly grilling state troopers, survivors, witnesses, and newspaper reporters for the exact site of local troopers' deaths so he knew precisely where to place his monuments.

"Everybody who had asked permission to do something like this was turned down--because there just wasn't any policy on it," Metcalf says. "So, I just snuck around. I got 13 out before they caught me.

"They told me I might go to jail. My stomach was in knots," he remembers of that first call from DPS. But when word of Metcalf's work reached the highest officials in DPS and TDOT, they not only showed clemency, they encouraged him. (In truth, troopers and highway workers had been informally helping him all along--signs, barriers, and landscaping appeared at many of the sites.) Now he has a letter of commendation from the governor and, most importantly, a letter from DPS to TDOT approving his work.

When Metcalf first tells you of his "hobby" of erecting monuments to slain troopers, he has the distinct ring of a cracked pot: a guy in terrible health driving the highways of Texas in a pickup with a huge tombstone in the back, enlisting the help of friends and strangers to pour concrete and set it--all because a cop didn't give him a ticket.

But no one who meets Metcalf doubts his sincerity. Spouting praise for God and state troopers--"they do a tough job on lonely highways and die protecting the public"--he buries cynicism deeper than his granite stones.

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