PRAIRIE CITY — When drivers cross the bridge on Highway 117 in Prairie City they will now be reminded of a dedicated police officer, family member and friend. On the 40th anniversary of officer Donald (Rusty) Hewitt’s death, two street signs were unveiled in honor of the former Prairie City officer.
The bridge that crosses Highway 163 was filled with loved ones Sunday afternoon as well as a group of locals who put the dedication into action. James Breckenridge, Hewitt’s nephew, said he thought of the idea because he wanted to honor his uncle whom he never met.
Breckenridge reached out to Prairie City Police Chief Joe Bartello to figure out how to dedicate the bridge.
“I said I think that sounds like a great idea, and when he asked if we could get it done before Dec. 3, I kind of laughed — it can be a long process,” Bartello said. “We got ahold of the Iowa Department of Transportation and it was amazing the amount of support that I got.”
The DOT emailed forms to Bartello and he took it to the city council and it passed unanimously. He said the next step was taking it to the Jasper County Board of Supervisors, which also approved it unanimously in October.
“So then it became how quickly can we do this and what do we need to do to get the sign ordered and get its approval?” Bartello said.
When the information was sent off to the state for approval, Bartello pushed to receive the sign by Dec. 3. No one expected the process would be done so quickly.
“I was already thinking ahead to maybe police week in spring and in May, so I was absolutely thrilled to find out it could happen on the actual anniversary day,” Breckenridge said. “The amount of support I would’ve never thought ... I was expecting maybe half of the people, it’s amazing.”
Hewitt was killed on Dec. 3, 1977 when he was working a high-speed chase that began in Oskaloosa and ended around two miles east of Prairie City. Hewitt attempted to position his patrol vehicle in front of the suspect’s vehicle to slow it down when his car was struck by another driver. Hewitt and his passenger were killed.
“He lived doing what he loved to do, and he died doing what he loved to do,” Breckenridge said.
Hewitt’s brother, Steve, said Rusty was always concerned about other people’s welfare, and he was also a paramedic.
“His goal in life was to be a police officer and work his way on up the ladder,” Steve said. “He was so dedicated.”
Steve said he hopes when the community passes by the sign dedicated to his brother that they will be really thankful for what law enforcement and responders do.
“This is so great, the work that was done by Bartello, James (Breckenridge) and (Wes) Breckenridge ... there’s no way to describe it,” Steve said. “Most people around here probably don’t realize because it’s been 40 years ago and it’s a whole different generation here, but they will see the sign and it will mean a lot.”
Rep. Wes Breckenridge, D-Newton, said the dedication meant a lot to him and his family.
“James Breckenridge is my cousin,” Wes Breckenridge said. “I’m really going to give all the credit to James and Chief (Joe) Bartello, they are really the ones behind this.”
He said he helped in every way he could to get the ball rolling.
“Bartello reached out to me when they were going to the council and board of supervisors for approval ... I made some phone calls to some individuals to say ‘hey what can we do to make this happen,’” Wes Breckenridge said. “After being a police officer here in Prairie City, it hits close to home, this is where I started my career here in Prairie City.”
Contact Kayla Singletary at 641-792-3121 ext. 6533 or firstname.lastname@example.org