RANKIN A stretch of highway in Upton County will now bear the name of a fallen hero, Upton County Deputy Billy “Bubba” Frank Kennedy Jr.
A Memorial Highway Dedication ceremony took place Thursday in the Rankin High School auditorium where a large black cloth with a thin blue stripe in the middle lay draped over a highway sign for much of the ceremony.
It will be one of two signs reading “Deputy Billy Frank Kennedy Jr. Memorial Highway” that will mark a stretch of highway in the county. One will be located at the Upton County line and another at the end of State Highway 349 and State Highway 67 near the Rankin city limits, Upton County Sheriff Dan Brown said.
Speaker after speaker addressed the crowd Thursday morning to talk about their friend, their co-worker, their student and their brother in arms.
Kennedy was shot to death Oct. 2, 2013, in McCamey near the gas pumps of the Stripes Convenience Store while responding to a call about a man who demanded free gas after his credit card was declined. The man, Gary David Green, was driving a pickup that was reported stolen out of Odessa earlier that day.
As Kennedy approached the driver’s side door and unsnapped his gun holster, Green reportedly opened the door and started shooting the deputy.
Green is facing a capital murder charge for the shooting death. More than four years has passed and the case has still not gone to trial, said Michael Holguin, a member of the Billy Kennedy Jr. Memorial Committee who helped with the highway dedication. Holguin said he believes the trial is set for sometime in September in New Braunfels.
“A hero dies twice, once with his death and twice if their name is not spoken again,” Holguin said. “Let’s not forget the names of our fallen heroes and Bubba was definitely one of them.”
Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter spoke Thursday remembering how the community came together after Kennedy was shot. Painter said he attended the funeral and has never seen so many people rise in support of their law enforcement, and especially Bubba.
Retired Texas Ranger Jess Malone was also a guest speaker, telling the crowd about how Bubba lived down the street from him while he was a state trooper. Malone said Kennedy heard the call that night to protect his neighbors in the community and he answered that call bravely and truthfully.
“This is one of the greatest ways to honor the memory of Bubba, this highway sign,” Brown told the crowd.
The sheriff described Kennedy as a man who loved his family, a good Christian and a man who loved the outdoors.
“He always had that little grin on him,” Brown said.
A lot of people talked about that grin as they shared memories of Kennedy, including his former coach Henry Anderson.
“I remember that grin,” Anderson said with a grin of his own.
As a coach, or as a teacher, you try not to play favorites, Anderson said, but Bubba was one of his favorites. He watched him grow up and remembered thinking, “you could tell this kid was gonna be somebody when he got big and we always talked about that.”
“It’s easy for me to talk about Bubba because he’s like one of my own. It’s truly an honor to be able to speak at a prestigious event like this to honor a kid who’s like my own son,” he said.
Everything Kennedy did, he did it with a passion; whether it was with his wife, his kids, his horses, sports or his career, he said.
“If I had a son, I’d want him to be like Bubba. … He just had something that we all marveled,” Anderson said. “Bubba’s dream was to become a law enforcement officer and guess what? He died living his dream.”
Anderson said the highway dedication will be a great way to keep Kennedy’s memory alive.
“I will never forget the man,” he added.
Holguin said throughout the process of getting the signs and the highway dedication in Kennedy’s honor, he’s been able to witness the family heal a little.
“It’s been a healing experience for them and part of closure, you know,” he said.
The trial is something that is out of the family’s control, Holguin said, but the sign was something they could focus on and control and it’s been a positive, healing process.
The sign unveiled on Thursday will not be the ones being placed alongside the roadway due to some minor damage during their transport earlier that morning, but Holguin said the Texas Department of Transportation is in the process of getting them replaced.
Holguin said the contractor may have unbanded them when they picked them up from McCamey and appears they were sliding on top of each other.
“When I say them, I told TxDOT, ‘no, this is not acceptable,’ ” he said, adding these kinds of things happen, but they will be letting everyone know when the signs get installed.