By Randy Arrington
LURAY, June 26 — Some stand stoic, staring ahead in deep thought. Some capture the moment on their phones. Some take a moment to wipe away a tear.
Vehicles pass by overhead, unknowingly participating in a brief moment of local history, unknowing of the emotions flowing beneath the overpass, alongside the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.
A light breeze ruffles the red, white and blue as Bob Seger’s “Like A Rock” flows over a crowd of nearly 100 in attendance to dedicate the Dominic “Nick” J. Winum Memorial Bridge. The event hosted by the Page County Board of Supervisors with the assistance of the Virginia Department of Transportation was held beneath the Route 211 overpass, with White House Farm and the Massanutten mountain as a backdrop.
“I can see why Officer Winum chose this spot to sit when he was on patrol with the Virginia State Police,” said Jennifer Aulgur, legislative assistant to 2nd District Virginia Senator Mark Obenshain.
“Senator Obenshain sponsored 20 bills this last session, but the Winum bridge dedication was the most important to him,” Aulgur said before reading a prepared statement from Obenshain. “There’s nothing we can do to bring him back, but we hope every time you cross this bridge a smile will cross your face.”
On Feb. 26, 2021, Stanley Police Officer Nick Winum was fatally shot multiple times during a traffic stop on Stanley’s Judy Lane. Several memorial services have been held since then, and a new playground built by the “Where Angels Play” Foundation was dedicated in his name on June 3 at Stanley’s Hawksbill Park. Winum’s name also appears on a memorial wall for fallen officers in Washington, D.C. In the weeks and months following his death, condolences and offers of help for the department, the family and the community poured in from all over the country and beyond.
“If you had asked me on Feb. 26, 2021 if there would be any good to come from it, I would have said ‘None’,” Stanley Police Chief Ryan Dean said during Monday’s dedication. “But things like today show what we can do when we pull together, instead of ripping each other apart…It shows what we can accomplish when we pull together as a community.”
Although he was unable to attend Monday’s dedication, during the last session in Richmond Senator Obenshain sponsored Senate Bill 1220 requesting the General Assembly to enact that “the Route 211 westbound bridge that crosses over the South Fork of the Shenandoah River in Page County is hereby designated the ‘Dominic ‘Nick’ J. Winum Memorial Bridge.” The bill requires VDOT to “place and maintain appropriate markers indicating the designation of the bridge,” and that “the Page County Board of Supervisors agrees to pay the costs of producing, placing and maintaining the signs calling attention to this naming.”
Both resolutions adopted by the Town of Stanley and the Page County Board of Supervisors were sent to the Commonwealth Transportation Board for approval. While Obenshain patroned the bill in the Senate, Speaker of the House Todd Gilbert was listed as the co-patron in the House of Delegates.
The resolution, which passed both houses of the state legislature unanimously, acknowledges Winum’s law enforcement career, beginning with the Virginia State Police from 2006 to 2016 before joining the Stanley Police Department. The bridge location was noted as well, as “one of [his] favorite spots…to sit in the area of the White House bridge where he could enjoy the scenic view of the Shenandoah River while patrolling” for the state police on Route 211.
The bill also states that, “This designation shall not affect any other designation heretofore applied to this bridge.” The language addresses an earlier debate in November during deliberation by the board of supervisors in which a few citizens felt some history may be lost in the bridge’s colloquial moniker of “White House Bridge.” A nearby structure known as “White House” was first built as a fort in the 18th century, and referenced in Civil War actions in the area.
During that Nov. 7 meeting, it was noted several times that only two bridges in the county actually have “names” — the Robert T. Brumback Memorial Bridge on Route 340 at Compton, and the Emmett Arthur Dougans Memorial Bridge over Route 211 in Luray. Other structures that carry monikers like Alma bridge, Overall bridge and even White House bridge are simply colloquial terms, rather than official names. It took two votes before a resolution of support was passed by the board of supervisors.
“I want to say, this will likely always be known as ‘White House bridge’… and I’m okay with this,” Nick’s widow Kara said on Monday, with the historic “White House” barely in view through the trees just over her shoulder.
“For those from Page County that might travel over this bridge, I hope it might offer an opportunity to remember Nick and the person he was…for those traveling through that may never know who Nick Winum was, maybe they will think about those who protect and serve, and those officers out there on the road.”
Around the time the one-hour ceremony just west of Luray was ending, final preparations were being made a little over an hour south in Nelson County to lay Wintergreen Officer Mark Christopher Wagner II to rest. The June 16 shooting of Officer Wagner offers a continuing reminder of the dangers faced by those in law enforcement.
“Many people may say you’re simply there to write tickets and raise revenue, but that’s simply not true…you put your lives on the line every day,” Staunton District representative on the Commonwealth Transportation Board Mark Merrill said on Monday to those law enforcement officers present from Page County, neighboring jurisdictions and the Virginia State Police.
“You all risk the chance you may not come home, and that unfortunate truth unfolded for Kara on Feb. 26, 2021,” Merrill said, “but Nick’s memory and legacy lives on with you, with fellow officers and with the Page County community.”
In November 2019, the Commonwealth Transportation Board awarded an $11.3 million contract to Fielder’s Choice Enterprises Inc. of Charlottesville to replace the westbound bridge over the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, between Route 615 (Egypt Bend Road) and Route 646 (Oak Leaf Road). Beginning in May of 2020 and reaching completion this summer, the two-year project featured two 12-foot travel lanes, a 10-foot right shoulder and a 6-foot left shoulder. The new, 625-foot bridge is about 200 feet shorter than the previous bridge to match the embankment length of the adjacent eastbound span.
Keith Weakley, chairman of the board of supervisors, worked on that project as an engineer for VDOT. Weakley served as master of ceremonies for the June 26 dedication.
“We still grieve for Officer Winum,” Weakley said, “but today we establish a lasting memorial to him.”