For a quarter of a century – more than half his lifetime – Erik Hite tried to protect us. He died trying.
Now Hite’s legacy is not only commanding more appreciation of law enforcement, but also is helping an aspiring Eagle Scout get his wings.
Hite served 21 years in the U.S. Air Force, then four more with the Tucson Police Department.
He was only 43 when he was gunned down in the line of duty June 1, while braving gunfire as he chased a suspect across the northern tier of Tucson. Hite died the next day.
A makeshift memorial has stood ever since at the spot where he was sabotaged.
Soon a permanent remembrance will be created nearby, thanks chiefly to neighborhood activist Lori Oien and Boy Scout Kyle Kadous, son of Tucson police Sgt. Anthony Kadous.
The cool retreat, shaded by mesquite trees, will feature a drinking fountain, equipped with a special nozzle for people in wheelchairs and will also have a doggy dish below.
Hite’s face will be etched in black granite donated by the local Granite Planet, and donors are paying $25 each to have messages engraved in pavers, donated by The Home Depot on East Broadway.
Tucsonans can only hope this site someday will bring solace to Hite’s widow, Nohemy; their 1 1/2-year-old daughter, Samantha; adult son, Roy David Hite of San Antonio; and Erik Hite’s parents, Patsy and Roy Hite of Florence, Ore.
Officer Hite was attacked just north of East Tanque Verde Road on North Tomahawk Trail, where a memorial to the local hero sprang up almost instantaneously.
Police and sheriff’s cruisers still stop there, as fellow officers pay their respects.
That site is in the public right of way though, Oien says. The new memorial will be on the south side of Tanque Verde Road, in an embracing alcove of a wall for a development there.
Oien is president of the neighborhood association for Bear Canyon, the community where Hite was attacked.
More important, she is married to a law enforcement officer. Tears still fill her eyes when she remembers the day Hite was shot.
(David Nick Delich is charged with first-degree murder in Hite’s death and was charged recently with assaulting an officer in the Pima County Adult Detention Center unit for mentally ill inmates, where he is being held.)
Oien didn’t know Hite. And Kyle Kadous, 13, says he doesn’t know much about Hite; he’s helping with the memorial as his project to become an Eagle Scout.
One man who knew Hite well, alas, never knew they both were in Tucson until it was too late.
Local architect Edward C. Schaeffer Jr. served in Air Force law enforcement with Hite in the 569th U.S. Forces Police Flight in southwest Germany.
Tech Sgt. E-6 Hite, second in command on the swing shift, “did everything the way it was supposed to be done, no excuses and no exceptions,” Schaeffer recalls. “This approach doesn’t always earn you the nomination for Mr. Congeniality, but . . . his standards were high, and he led by example.
“Erik was promoted to master sergeant while I was there, and I never saw that man grin so much during a shift as he did that day.”
Not until Schaeffer heard the tragic news last June did he know that Hite, too, had landed in Tucson.
Now he is serving as architect of the memorial for his old friend – “a man who dedicated his entire professional life to public service.”
Hite’s fearless service and shocking death shook all of Tucson deeply.
A deeper respect and appreciation for law enforcement has permeated our community since his slaying.
Citizens such as Oien, Schaeffer and Kadous have been galvanized into action.
And local businesses have demonstrated laudable largess despite the sour economy.
Now Tucson will have a permanent place to commemorate Hite’s sacrifice on our behalf.
And when little Samantha becomes a big girl, she can sit beneath some mesquite in the Tanque Verde Valley and know what all of Tucson knows – that her daddy was more than a man. He was a genuine hero.
Reach Billie Stanton at 573-4664 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
HOW TO HELP
• E-mail Lori Oien at email@example.com
• Or call her at 749-3472.