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State trooper shares the good, bad and ugly as he hangs up his hat after 27 years

Posted Jan. 25, 2013, at 6:17 a.m.
Phil Pushard has retired after 27 years of service as a trooper with the Maine State Police.  Phil followed in his father, Don Pushard's (left), footsteps who was a trooper for 25 years.
Linda Coan O'Kresik
Phil Pushard has retired after 27 years of service as a trooper with the Maine State Police. Phil followed in his father, Don Pushard's (left), footsteps who was a trooper for 25 years.
Friends and colleagues signed a tag of Phil Pushard's trooper car number for a retirement gift.
Linda Coan O'Kresik
Friends and colleagues signed a tag of Phil Pushard's trooper car number for a retirement gift. Buy Photo
A portrait of Phil Pushard and his father Don Pushard in 1989.
A portrait of Phil Pushard and his father Don Pushard in 1989.

BREWER, Maine — After 27 years on the job as a Maine State Police trooper, there are a lot of memories that, on occasion, still haunt Phil Pushard.

He remembers wading into a river to recover the body of a young girl left there by her killer; being involved in stopping a man on the highway who shot and killed his own child; and carrying the casket of a fellow trooper who died during training.

“I think about them,” Pushard, 50, said simply on Thursday, a few days after he retired from the force.

He remembers accident after accident that left people dead or injured on the side of the road, and one recent encounter with a 100,000-pound tractor trailer carrying a load of logs that he didn’t think he would survive.

“I’ve been hit, I don’t know how many times — three or four,” Pushard recalled while sitting in his Brewer kitchen. “I heard a call that there was a truck just north of Old Town that was all over the road. I told the barracks that I was in the area.”

Pushard waited for the truck in the breakdown lane of Interstate 95.

“I see him coming and turn on my lights,” he said. “I look in the mirror and he’s still coming. I pull over so I’m all the way off the highway, with all my tires in the grass and I laid across the seat and said, ‘This is going to be nasty.’”

The big rig went screaming by and ripped off his driver’s side mirror.

“I pulled him over and he denied hitting me or even seeing me,” Pushard said. “That one bothered me for a while.”

The stories of people he has encountered over the last three decades spilled out of him as he looked back on his years of service. He recalled the good, the bad and the ugly he saw while covering homicides, burglaries, sexual assaults and other crimes, and used humor — as police officers and those in the military often do — to balance the terrible parts of his chosen profession.

He told stories about women who flashed him and people who tried to slip him $100 bills with their driver’s licenses in failed attempts to get out of a speeding ticket, and one story about a speeding man who crashed his vehicle after locking up his brakes when he saw Pushard’s cruiser parked next to another on Route 202 in Hampden.

As the guy climbed out of his crashed car, “the other trooper says, ‘Sir, we stopped you for speeding,’” Pushard said, a smile lighting up his face. “He was so livid. He couldn’t believe he was getting a speeding ticket after crashing his car.”

The untold stories of survival in Maine also will never leave him. He once investigated a theft of $6 from a vegetable stand and found the suspect living in a shack with a wood stove and dirt floors.

“It’s amazing what I got to see,” Pushard said. “Then you hear people complain about miniscule things and think, ‘Holy crap. If you only knew how good you have it.’”

His fellow troopers are like his family, but his wife, Jackie, and two sons, Ben and Matthew, his friends outside of law enforcement help to keep him sane, he said.

“I’m extremely lucky to have a great, understanding wife, and great friends who don’t give me a hard time about being a cop,” Pushard said.

He also is a Brewer High School basketball and baseball coach and said there is no place better to forget about all of life’s stresses than watching young people play sports and grow into young adults on the practice court or field.

While Pushard was telling stories earlier in the day at the Dunkin Donuts in Brewer, Trooper Rick Charette saw him and stopped to say hello. Charette mentioned that Pushard will be on the cover of the upcoming Trooper Association Magazine and how he looked up to him as a young law enforcement officer.

“Phil was one of the older generation guys when I came on — the older fraternity guys,” Charette said. “It was always fascinating to see them work.”

Until the day he retired, Pushard, who was third in the state with seniority, also was vice president of the association.

Pushard followed in the footsteps of his dad, now retired Trooper Donald Pushard, who joined the state police force when Phil was 2 years old.

He said his youth was filled with playing cops and robbers in his dad’s cruiser and he has fond memories of ride-alongs with his dad that started when he became a teenager.

Even though he says he always wanted to be a trooper, Phil Pushard had several jobs — including working for the phone company — after high school.

“I couldn’t wait to get off work and go riding with my dad on Friday and Saturday nights,” he said.

It was January 1986 when Phil Pushard joined the ranks of the state police and put on the blue uniform for the first time.

“I didn’t encourage him,” his dad said Thursday. Don Pushard said he was “thrilled” and very proud when he learned his son would be a Maine State Police trooper, but his wife, Claudette, wasn’t as happy.

“My wife said she never worried about me but she worried about her son,” he said.

“It was a good job for me,” the elder Pushard said of working as a trooper.

He was named Trooper of the Year in 1986, and was allowed to pin his son’s badge on him when the young man graduated from the police academy that same year.

“I had a great tutor and a great teacher,” Phil Pushard said of his father.

When Phil Pushard started, he was assigned to East Millinocket and his dad worked at Troop E, which includes Penobscot and Piscataquis counties. The two worked “together” for about five years, until Don Pushard retired in 1990.

“There are a lot of pleasurable memories and a lot of sad memories,” Don Pushard said.

Phil Pushard’s last official act was to call dispatch and sign off for the last time, which occurred at around 1:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18.

“Hey, thanks alot for everything,” Pushard said over the police radio using his call number 843. “You guys have taken great care of me over the last 27 years. I really appreciate it. Thank you.”

“Today, your Pushard tradition with Maine State Police goes back almost 50 years,” a dispatcher told Pushard when he signed off. “The people of Maine have been very fortunate to have a public servant of your caliber looking out for their safety. Stay safe and we wish you the best of luck in the future.”

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