Lawman Norman Copeland

This photo is a two-fer. It shows one of my favorite law enforcement officers, Trooper Norman Copeland, and the reason I’m a fanatic about seat belts.

Trooper Copeland is working a two-car, head-on crash that happened on Hwy 61 north of Fruitland. Six people were taken to the hospital. The car didn’t have seat belts or any of the modern safety devices, and you can see how the passengers became flying missiles.

The steering wheel is bent and broken; the back of the front seat is deformed from the rear seat passengers pitching against it. There’s a hole punched in the windshield from someone’s head and there’s a big dent in the dashboard, also from a head.

Why you should wear a seat belt

There were no fatalities, but injuries included

  • Back injuries
  • Severe facial lacerations
  • Chest injuries
  • Two broken legs
  • Broken jaw
  • General cuts and bruises

WWII Vet, Trooper, Sheriff

Norman Copeland was a World War II Vet who served in both Europe and Asia. After he joined the Highway Patrol, he moved to the Cape Girardeau zone in 1962. He was promoted to corporal in 1967, and to sergeant in 1967. He served as zone commander until he retired in 1983.

He became Cape County Sheriff in 1986 and served until he resigned in 1994.

At a dinner in Copeland’s honor when he retired, Presiding Circuit Judge Bill Syler said, “Nobody ever looked better on a witness stand as a highway patrolman than Norman Copeland,” adding that his gray hair, neat uniform and warm smile made him a convincing witness to any jury.

That was what I remembered about Trooper Copeland. It could be the middle of the night in a driving rainstorm and he wouldn’t have a hair out of place. He was always cooperative at the scene and went out of his way to answer all of my rookie reporter questions. There was a Missourian editorial complaining about access after he became sheriff, but I always found him to be helpful.

The photo at the top of the page may have won a minor spot news photography award, but I can’t be sure.

10 Replies to “Lawman Norman Copeland”

  1. Chilling accident shots! It’s amazing that more passengers weren’t killed in this accident. How could we have taken our lives in our hands every time we rode in one of those old automobiles?
    Wonderful tribute to a fine man, Ken!
    We truly never know what to expect on your blog!

  2. Norman Copeland WAS the quintessential Missouri State Highway Patrolman. To me he always was bigger than life in that uniform. Norman, his wife Wilma, and daughters, Mona and Patty were neighbors and friends of ours. He had a great sense of humor and could always be counted upon in a time of need. But he also had a no-nonsense side that was present if the situation dictated it. One of our other neighbors, Wilmon Huckstep, once said that Norman would give his own mother a speeding ticket without batting an eye.
    I sure Norman is missed by all who new him. Thanks for the memory.

  3. That is the reason why I never drive without seat belts on. That goes to anyone with me in the car. Even if the car is going at a crawl, you don’t know when some drunk fool will suddenly rear end you at a 100mph! Heaven forbid!

  4. My dad was Deputy Sheriff to him. when my dad died he put together his funeral and it was something to behold including 21 gun salute! He was a man who envelloped his job and defined it!

  5. Everything said so far about Norman Copeland is so true. Also has an outstanding wife and daughter. Good family genes…And the Huckstep genes are pretty darn fantastic also!!

  6. I was involved in an accident on that same stretch when I was a senior at Central. It was the Saturday morning after our last football game (v. Perryville who we soundly thumped) and Pat Godwin, Walter Lamkin, Lynn Davidson and I were heading to Mizzou for a game and related hijinks. I was driving my mother’s car, a whale of a Chrysler New Yorker. We were heading North around Appleton on what appeared to be a long straight stretch with good line of sight. The catch was, there was a dip in the road big enough to conceal a few cars. As luck would have it, we were in said dip, hidden from the oncoming south bound traffic which included an idiot who was attempting to pass six cars on a double yellow line. Our only way out was to hit the shoulder at 70mph but there was a car dead in the water just where I needed to hit the ditch. Somehow we made it around the abandoned car and avoided a head on by inches. Amazingly, there were no injuries in my car but the entire drivers side was taken out. I’m sure we were not wearing seat belts.

    As I recall there was a Missourian article about the accident which happened in the fall of ’67.

  7. Perhaps the best account of Trooper Norman Copeland (later Sheriff Norman Copeland) — and his sheer courage — is the night that he saved Mary Potashnick Harrison’s life — mid to late ’60s, I believe. While trying to land during terribly inclement weather, her airplane had come in too low on the approach to the Cape airport, clipped the trees, and crashed in the fields in front of the runway. Copeland and Gene Huckstep (who was riding in the patrol car as a volunteer civilian) raced to the scene to find the plane on fire, and they drove the car across the field until the car nearly sank in mud. Copeland then ran to the plane, jumped in the passenger compartment while the plane was still burning, extricated Ms. Harrison who was terribly injured, and pulled her to safety — just before the plane exploded. There is an epilogue to this account, but it will save for later.

  8. Norman Copeland and Gene Huckstep (at that time owner of Huckstep’s Body Shop), early on recognized the need for a better way to extricate people from the mangled mess that automobiles become in severe accidents. The two of them sorted out the needed equipment and materials for accomplishing the task and Gene assembled Southeast Missouri’s first extrication service within his own business, long before many other areas of the country. Both men served the citizens selflessly, giving of their time and talents. Many people owed their lives to these two fine citizens.

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