County dedicates section of highway to honor slain patrolman

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NEWARK, NJ — Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr., NJ State Sen. Teresa Ruiz and Sheriff Armando Fontoura announced the dedication of the “Patrolman Daniel ‘Danny’ J. Smith Memorial” on Wednesday, Aug. 28. A native of Bloomfield and a member of the old Essex County Police Department, Smith was fatally shot on Sept. 17, 1984, while making a routine traffic stop on Interstate Route 280.

The highway marker dedicates a portion of Route 280 — between mile marker 11.1 near the Oakwood Avenue overpass to mile marker 12.4 in East Orange — in Smith’s memory.

“Our law enforcement officers are on the front lines of keeping our neighborhoods and streets safe, and sometimes this can be a very dangerous job. Tragically, Danny Smith lost his life during a routine traffic stop,” DiVincenzo said. “Smith’s commitment and willingness to serve cannot be forgotten, and this highway marker will keep his memory alive and remind the public of his ultimate sacrifice.”

“It was an honor to sponsor the legislation to create this memorial marker for Officer Smith. He was a member of the Essex County Police for just about 18 months, but his enthusiasm, energy and dedication made an immediate impact,” Ruiz said. “Almost 35 years have passed since Officer Smith’s death. Long overdue, this marker is a fitting tribute to his memory.”

“As many of you know, the job as a police officer often puts our brave uniformed men and women in dangerous face-to-face confrontations with criminals who are often armed with deadly firepower. In order to keep our communities and neighbors safe, these are the accepted risks of our chosen profession, risks that were well known to Officer Daniel Smith and his family,” Fontoura said. “And yet, as we approach the 35th anniversary of this tragic event, it is important that we never lose sight of what happened. In that spirit of remembrance, I’m gratified that this section of Route 280 will forever be known as the Officer Daniel J. Smith Memorial Site.”

“Danny’s friends and colleagues never forgot and every Sept. 17 there are telephone calls, emails and text messages,” said Capt. Peter Corbo of the Essex County Sheriff’s Office, who spoke on behalf of Smith’s family. “It gives me great pride in knowing that the thousands of people driving on Route 280 will see these signs and know Danny Smith was a true Essex County hero.”

A Senate resolution sponsored by Ruiz reads: “Officer Daniel J. Smith will always be remembered by his family, his friends and his colleagues in law enforcement as a conscientious public servant who gave generously of his time, energy and resources on behalf of the people of Essex County. … It is altogether proper and fitting for this House to pause in its deliberations to praise and recognize Daniel J. Smith as a police officer of strong character and exceptional determination who made the ultimate sacrifice while performing his professional duties.”

Smith, who was 27 years old, was driving alone in his patrol car when he pulled over a motorist for a traffic violation near the Oakwood Avenue overpass. When he approached the driver-side door, the motorist fatally shot Smith. An East Orange police patrol arrived at the scene shortly after and a brief chase ensued. It ended when the suspect crashed his car into the highway median. Police then arrested a man and a woman, and recovered several guns from the suspect’s automobile. The suspect was convicted and is serving a life sentence.

Smith was a third-generation police officer; his grandfather, father and three uncles were all members of law enforcement agencies. He graduated from the Essex County Police Academy in Cedar Grove and joined the Essex County Police Force in January 1983. He had graduated from Bloomfield High School in 1975 and attended Fairleigh Dickinson University. He is survived by his wife, Patricia, and his sister, Margaret Smith Harvey.

The Essex County Police were merged into the Essex County Sheriff’s Office in 1994.

Photos Courtesy of Essex County and Julian Coltre