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Billboards across West Michigan commemorate fallen police officers

An East Grand Rapids Police Officer is being honored during the month of February, nearly 30 years after he was hit by a drunk driver and died of his injuries.

EAST GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A fallen East Grand Rapids Police Officer and firefighter is being honored during the month of February. It comes nearly 30 years after he was hit by a drunk driver while directing traffic. 

Multiple Grand Rapids area police officers are being memorialized throughout town on billboard. It's part of an effort to remember officers like Bruce Van Popering of the East Grand Rapids Public Safety Department.

"Most people don't know why there's that cute little statue with the firefighter, or the fire hydrant with a police belt on it," Kitrina Van Popering, Bruce's daughter, says.

There are multiple signs of fallen Officer Van Popering in East Grand Rapids, who lost his life while directing traffic on the 4th of July in 1994. He was hit by a drunk driver that night, and he died of his injuries two weeks later at age 57. His daughter Kitrina had a baby on the way at the time.

"(My kids) never even got to meet their grandpa," she says. "For years, we come out here for Fourth of July for the fireworks. Just because that was the last fireworks dad saw."

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And now there are two new signs of him that were possible by the Brothers in Blue Grand Rapids.

"It was about two years ago, in the winter that we decided that we should be doing something to honor officers that have passed in the Grand Rapids area," Phil Werkema says. "There has been 21 officers that have lost their life in the Greater Grand Rapids area, since records have been kept back in 1895." 

Officer Van Popering is one of four officers with a billboard dedicated to them this month. The billboards blink a message of remembrance every couple of seconds. It's an important message for Kitrina and Phil.

"It's important that we remember these people and not forget them, never forget them," Phil says.

"It's just a beautiful thing to be able to come in here and know that dad wasn't forgotten," Kitrina says.

This is the second billboard campaign for Brothers in Blue Grand Rapids. You can see Officer Van Popering's billboards off of U.S. 131 and 76th Street SW, along with westbound I-96 near Alden Nash Avenue SE.

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