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Along the highway, signs of respect for Clover trooper killed in crash

Flashing blue lights, but no sirens, on nine Highway Patrol motorcycles accompanied the hearse that sped east along S.C. 55 from Clover, where the body was prepared.

The motorcade approached S.C. 49, at what used to be called "Five Points" when that intersection was a pentagram that also included S.C. 274. That was years ago, before civil engineers and their curbs and gutters and straight angles took all the excitement out of that preposterous confluence of highways that was one of York County's iconic places.

Five Points was a place with two convenience stores right on the corners where troopers like Cpl. D. Kevin Cusack would stop and have coffee, ask the employees if they were all right.

Now Five Points is a place 300 yards south of the Lake Wylie Christian Assembly church where hundreds of troopers and other cops converged Monday for Cusack's funeral.

The 21-year veteran from Clover - quiet and serious, courteous and devoted, gracious and nice - died Saturday on a Lancaster County highway while on duty. His cruiser crashed, and, like that, Five Points became the site of a funeral.

"Asked us to pray for the family at church Sunday, the kids, and I sure did," said Carol Motley in one of those stores, Warren's Grill.

Cusack's three children are left without a father.

In the parking lot in front of the store sat a Highway Patrol car with a trooper in the driver's seat. He sat motionless, waiting for the person with him to come out with a sausage biscuit and a cold drink. He had a 20-ounce bottle for the chewing tobacco juice that he would spit, every so often.

He looked straight ahead. His hands gripped the wheel until his knuckles turned red, then white. His eyes were red from so many tears. His nameplate, "Lloyd," shone from polish.

That is what troopers have as identification. Last names, shining, on silver bars over their hearts.

"Kevin was my partner in Lancaster," Trooper G.D. Lloyd said.

He said no more. There was nothing left to say.

Then Trooper Lloyd left to drive a couple hundred yards to the funeral. He drove slowly, without blue lights - without a partner.

Right afterward, traffic from all directions where S.C. 55 and S.C. 49 and S.C. 274 come together was halted by a single York County Sheriff's Office deputy so the motorcade could pass.

The deputy stood outside his patrol car, at attention, arms rigid at his sides, as the motorcade turned left from S.C. 55 onto S.C.49 for the 300 yards to the church. As the motorcade passed, he saluted.

Stopped there in the northbound lanes, in front of a line of cars in the right lane, a Chevy pickup truck towing a trailer idled.

The truck was the finger in the dyke of traffic that didn't know it was in the middle of a funeral procession until I told them because I was standing on the side of the road to watch the motorcade pass.

The passenger-side window rolled down and the driver, Jonathan McDaniel, said, "Cusack. I knew Cusack. I'm from York. 'Course I knew Cusack. Great guy. Proud to be waiting for him to pass by, be the first in line to watch it. Kind of like we are part of it, helping."

"Proud to stop here; troopers do a tough job," said Robert Lawton, the passenger in the truck and McDaniel's co-worker. "Hard out there keeping people safe on the road. But they do it, for not much money, either."

The motorcade passed, McDaniel pulled away. About 45 minutes later, he came back and parked along the side of the road.

"My buddy Brian Benfield and me was over at Cusack's house, must have been 15 years ago at least," McDaniel said. "Brian wanted to be a trooper and Cusack was helping him, giving him pointers on what it took."

York's Benfield did become a trooper and remains with the state Department of Public Safety, where he is well-known and respected. For years, he was in charge of security for Gov. Mark Sanford, and now is back on the road. McDaniel continued to remember Cusack.

"Then there was this trooper that lived next door to my momma years ago, he was sick with the cancer, and Cusack was over there helping him all the time," McDaniel said. "Then when I had a construction business, I put the gutters on Cusack's house. Great guy.

"Sure, we all heard he would give his own momma a ticket, but that was just how people talk. I never had a run-in with him, and I'm on the road a thousand miles a week, putting up these signs. He was the nicest, fairest trooper there was."

Somehow, it seemed fitting that this funeral was at a church located on a busy five-lane highway. To help the cops and mourners in and out, three police cars stood sentry in the middle lane, directly in front of the church.

All wore those trooper-style hats, the one's with the crown, because it was a formal day. There was a single young trooper who - in his quiet trooper way - showed his respect for Cusack by working traffic.

He stood silently, tall and straight. He said not one single word.

York County Sheriff's deputies had taken over almost all the Highway Patrol's duties Monday so as many troopers as possible could attend the services. One of the deputies in the middle of the road was a guy with creases in his face deep as any furrow plowed by a mule in red clay soil, named Ronnie Wilburn.

"There's those who love the police, and there's those who don't," Wilburn said. "But I can tell you that it don't matter one way or another, when people need help, in a house or out here on the roads, we come runnin'.

"Cusack was one of 'em who come runnin' - every time."

The deputy in charge was a longtime patrol lieutenant named Tim Smith. He is built like a bulldozer. He can't cut his hair short because he is bald. The formal hat covered his head.

Smith was not taking off that formal hat that meant "funeral' for his friend for any reason Monday. Same as the stopped traffic and McDaniel in the sign truck, that hat meant respect.

"Kevin was one of us," Smith said. "I'm proud to help out here today. Kevin would have done the same for any of us."