Tanya Tise slipped into a parking space outside the Vivian H. Burke Public Safety Center a few minutes before 8 a.m. Wednesday.
She went first to greet a handful of familiar faces, retired cops and friends who knew her husband Lt. Aaron Tise, a shift commander who was killed on the job 27 years ago. They hugged, laughed and got caught up.
Next, she crossed the parking lot. She nodded to a detective, who greeted her by name, and spoke briefly to a reporter. She held tight to a large red, white and blue bouquet she’d brought to place at the police memorial wall. “I guess I’d better get up there,” Tise said finally.
It was nearly 8 sharp, and a ceremony to honor her husband was about to begin. Close to 100 cops, plain-clothes detectives and uniforms, working patrol officers and brass alike, snapped to attention.
“Lt. Aaron Tise,” called out Cpl. Fleurette Gregory-Phillips, a member of the Winston-Salem Police Department’s honor guard. “End of watch June 26, 1992.”
A rough year
Tanya Tise knew how the End of Watch memorial ceremony would go. She’s been to plenty of them in the past and, God willing, will attend many more.
But knowing doesn’t make it any easier.
“The closer I get to tomorrow,” she’d said Tuesday afternoon, “the more I think about 27 years ago. … You still have in the back of your mind ‘What if somebody had done something different?’ But you can’t think that way. God has control.”
Still, it’s impossible not to consider the what-ifs — particularly in this instance.
Lt. Tise — he’s still Gerome to Tanya — wasn’t shot to death. Nor was he killed in a high-speed crash.
He died as the result of a stupid, mindless stunt: his police cruiser was crushed by an out-of-control road grader that had been stolen by joy-riding teenagers.
Early on the morning of June 26, 1992, police responded to a call about teens fooling around with heavy construction equipment parked off New Walkertown Road. They spent a half-hour looking around but didn’t find anything.
Two hours later, they were back. That time, they saw — and heard — the grader rumbling down East Street. Tise, the shift lieutenant, saw it coming directly at his cruiser and tried to escape through the passenger door.
He never had a chance.
Four teenagers were charged the next day with first-degree murder, assault and larceny. Charges against three were dropped.
But the fourth, a young man named Conrad Crews who’d been ID’ed as the driver, was charged with first-degree murder. The following year, Crews pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.
Last year, the state parole commission held a parole hearing. Tanya Tise had to sift through boxes of records and old newspaper clippings — to relive the whole horrible night — to prepare for her testimony.
Parole was denied in early June 2018. Not too long after that came the End of Watch observance for 2018.
“Last year was rough, especially with that hearing,” Tise said.
‘Glad he’s not forgotten’
The days leading up to this year’s ceremony brought about familiar — and mixed — emotions.
She felt the sadness and a touch of anger, of course, the same as anyone would. But for Tise, there’s also pride — even a little gratitude — in that the police in this city take the time to honor their own.
“It just takes your breath. Everything comes back,” she said. “We’re proud there’s a memorial down there and they’re not forgotten. I’m glad Gerome’s not forgotten.”
Wednesday’s observance was by design solemn. Members of the department’s honor guard took turns standing watch in front of the memorial wall all day.
As Tanya Tise greeted folks, cops (and ex-cops) filtered in. The retirees were easy to spot; the men grow beards and long hair the day after they file their papers.
Members of the traffic-enforcement unit glided in on department issue motorcycles. Detectives wearing khakis and golf shirts with embroidered badges gathered in clusters. Trainees in orange T-shirts ran up as a group. Uniforms, brass and a handful of off-duty officers came, too.
Few, if any, ever knew Lt. Aaron Tise. Some hadn’t even been born when he died. They don’t need — or particularly enjoy — reminders about the price their jobs can exact. But they came anyway, same as Tanya Tise. It’s a duty and an honor.
At 8 sharp, Gregory-Phillips called end of watch and a minute of silence was observed. Tise laid her bouquet at the wall and lowered her eyes. Just like that it was over.
“It’s just been so long, people don’t really remember all of it,” Tise said. “It’s nice that they do.”