'He would be so happy': Special Olympics torch run honors late police chief

May 11—Dozens of officers and deputies gathered Friday morning at the Morgan County Sheriff's Office for the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run — the first since former Decatur police Chief Ed Taylor, a Special Olympics advocate, died last month.

"It's a wonderful event," said Carol Taylor, Ed Taylor's widow. "They've raised many, many dollars for the Special Olympics, and my son has benefited greatly from this program and from everything these guys do for us. We just appreciate it. He (Ed) would be so happy."

Ed Taylor began his career with the Decatur Police Department in 1974 and served as chief from 2010 until his retirement in 2016.

Ed and Carol Taylor's son, Lane Barnes, mingled with Decatur police officers ahead of the 10 a.m. torch lighting. Others, in athletic gear and running shoes, stretched in the parking lot. It was a good morning for a jog: a cool breeze broke the humidity under a cloudless sky.

"We've got several of our special response and SWAT teams out here, because Chief Taylor was the one who helped create the SWAT team," said Decatur police Chief Todd Pinion. He praised the event as a positive community engagement effort. "Obviously, anytime we can partner with the sheriff for such a worthy cause, we're going to do it."

Started in 1981 in Wichita, Kansas, the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) sees more than 97,000 law enforcement members across all 50 states carry the torch, called the "Flame of Hope," into the opening ceremonies of local Special Olympics competitions. With the support of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, LETR has become the largest public awareness and fundraising group for the Special Olympics and has raised over $1 billion. Ed Taylor is credited with bringing the effort to Morgan County.

"We want to continue that," said Morgan County Sheriff Ron Puckett. "We really wanted to run this leg of the torch run in his honor and memory today. We're part of the north Alabama leg; there's also a south Alabama leg. Everybody runs to Troy University, and that's where they have the Special Olympics."

Before arriving in Decatur, the torch passed through Huntsville and Athens. On Wednesday, it will head south through Anniston and other towns before arriving at the Trojan Arena's Opening Ceremony at 7 p.m. next Friday.

"We do this to bring awareness for our community," Puckett said. "These Special Olympiads — that's why we do it."

Hartselle police Chief Justin Barley said he feels a special connection to the event, as his autistic nephew has participated in some of the local games.

"Being able to go to some of the local events and just seeing the pure joy that the athletes experience during those competitions, it can't help but put a smile on your face and lift your spirits," he said. "I just think it's a great cause that everybody can come together for, and I'm glad to see so much support here today for it."

Ahead of the run, law enforcement members purchased — with proceeds going to the Special Olympics — and donned tan shirts with torch logos on the front and "Honor the Fallen" on the back.

"Remember, the torch is always at the front," Bob Copus addressed the group. He is the law enforcement liaison for the Alabama Special Olympics and a retired 37-year police officer. "It's hot."

Copus then lit the torch and handed it to Barnes, supported by his mother. MCSO Capt. Perry Shands led the pack of runners underneath the flagpole toward Lee Street, where the group disappeared into a mile-long loop through downtown before returning. Coolers of bottled water waited in the parking lot.

Next week is Law Enforcement Appreciation Week. The annual Morgan County Fallen Officers Memorial will be held on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. near the Cain Street entrance of the Morgan County Courthouse in Cotaco Park.

Puckett said he and Pinion also plan on grilling for their employees.

"We usually have range week," Puckett said. "As they're at the range, we'll grill burgers and hot dogs. It's always fun to do. It's a fun week."

Barley said Hartselle Police Department's citizens' police academy usually provides meals to officers during Appreciation Week as an extra way of saying thank you.

"We will be here for the memorial, of course," he said. "I've never been able to attend the memorial service in Washington, D.C., but I always try to watch the livestream. It's a somber but very special event to see so many people come together and pay respects to the law enforcement officers across the country that lost their lives last year.

"I hope, eventually, to make it there in person one day." or 256-340-2438.