DAVIDSON – Efforts to establish a permanent and prominent tribute to a police officer killed in the line of duty more than two decades ago have received state approval.
On June 27 – acting on recommendations finalized by it’s Road, Bridge and Ferry Naming Committee the day before – the N.C. Board of Transportation approved the town’s request to name the Griffith Street Bridge at Interstate 77’s Exit 30 in honor of Officer Mark A. Swaney.
Swaney, a Mooresville native, was six years into a law enforcement career and in his second year with the Davidson Police Department when was shot and killed during an altercation in a Davidson neighborhood on Christmas Day 1997.
Official records show that on the afternoon of Dec. 25, 1997, the department received a report about “shots fired” at a home on the west side of town. Swaney, who had volunteered to come in early so another officer could be home with his family, and officer Charles McLean responded.
At the scene, officers were told about a drive-by shooting, and informed by family members that 18-year-old Damon Kerns had left the scene on foot and was carrying a firearm, apparently intent on retaliating against those who fired the shots.
When another officer arrived to take witness statements, Swaney and McLean set out to locate Kerns. Accounts indicate Swaney and McLean saw Kerns having a roadside confrontation with a family member. The officers intervened and a fight ensued between Kerns and the officers. Swaney attempted to use pepper spray on Kerns, but Kerns pulled out a 32-caliber gun and fired.
Swaney, 26, was hit twice in the body. McLean was shot in the neck. Both officers returned fire. One of McLean’s shots hit Kerns in the head, killing him instantly. Fellow officers performed CPR on Swaney at the scene. He was transported to Carolinas Medical Center, but died within an hour. McLean was treated at CMC and discharged a few days later.
At various times in subsequent years, efforts to honor Swaney, the only Davidson officer to be killed in the line of duty, were initiated but proved unsuccessful. In 2017, a new application to name the Griffith Street Bridge after Swaney was submitted by Davidson Chief Penny Dunn. It was derailed by guidelines that prohibited the naming of state roads and bridges in honor of municipal officers.
With the backing of a town board resolution – and evidence of multiple naming exceptions – Dunn resubmitted an application to the state in January. In early February, acting on a naming committee recommendation, the NCDOT board amended statutes to expand naming eligibility standards to include municipal officers and emergency response personnel.
On July 1, Dunn was notified of the NCDOT Board’s decision to name the bridge in Swaney’s honor. Barrett Eatman, assistance division maintenance engineer in the NCDOT’s Division 10, said the next step is to coordinate a formal resolution presentation with family members and friends at a NCDOT board meeting later this year.
Official dedication ceremonies will be held at a future date after the resolution is adopted and, ideally, after construction and renovations on the bridge – part of the I-77 Express Lanes project – are complete.