An initiative to name the Interstate 10/Ruthrauff Road traffic interchange after a fallen Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper is gaining momentum. In less than a week after first going online, a petition calling for the Arizona government to memorialize trooper Juan Cruz has earned more than 5,000 signatures.
On Wednesday, Dec. 9, 1998, Cruz was blocking the high-speed traffic lane of I-10 while investigating a prior collision. His vehicle was then struck by a drunk driver, resulting in a fiery crash. The driver was ultimately sentenced to 11 years for manslaughter.
“I’ve always wished we could honor him in a way greater than being on national lists,” said Jim Sayre, a Marana resident and family friend who started the petition. “And as I started to see the Ruthrauff project happening, I had the idea. I had also heard over the years that the Cruz family just didn’t like driving past that location. For one, for years after the event they could still see the burnt asphalt. And also just remembering the tragic event as they went by. So maybe by doing this they can instead be proud in driving by the area.”
Sayre met Cruz through his children, having attended high school with his daughter and college with his son. Once he saw construction taking place in the exact area Cruz’s vehicle was struck, Sayre began reaching out to the government in summer 2020 about signifying the “Trooper Juan Cruz Memorial Overpass.” However this is easier said than done due to COVID-19 complications.
“The Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names is currently abolished because it terminated on July 1, 2020, and the enabling statutes for the Board were repealed six months later,” said Ryan Ehrfurth, digital history and maps librarian for the Arizona State Library. “Due to the impact of COVID-19, the Arizona State Legislature had adjourned before passing a bill that would have continued the Board.”
While there is a bill that would help fund the board—House Bill 2058, sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh (R-D23)—it is not guaranteed. Ehrfurth says unless that bill passes and becomes statute, no Board activity is being done. As such Sayre is instead pushing for the memorial himself.
“At this point, I’m just trying to garner public support for the effort,” Sayre said. “What I’d really like to do is have someone at the state level or an elected official with influence say this is the right thing to do, let’s do it.”
The state does not have a history of specifically naming overpasses or bridges after individual fallen officers, instead opting to memorialize them on stretches of highway or mile markers.
“Of course, we should honor fallen officers all across the country. But in this particular case, the state is building a physical structure exactly where a state employee was killed doing their state job,” Sayre said.
Ehrfurth says the process for naming an officer memorial generally includes a research window where state employees compile relevant documentation, such as maps where the feature is located, and send out requests for feedback from the community and local government.
“The Board had nine voting members who decided whether to approve or reject the proposal based on the research provided,” Ehrfurth said. “The Board met quarterly, and a proposal was typically on the agenda for two to three meetings, so the whole process from receiving a proposal to the Board voting on it usually took six to nine months. Some proposals had taken more than a year because they turned out to be much more complex.”
The construction on the I-10/Ruthrauff Road traffic interchange began in early 2020. The project will raise Ruthrauff Road/El Camino del Cerro to go over Davis Avenue/Highway Drive, the Union Pacific Railroad and I-10. In addition, it will widen I-10 to four lanes in each direction and widen Ruthrauff to two lanes in each direction. The interchange is anticipated to reopen in late 2021.
“It’s picked up a lot of steam already. I’ll get messages from people who say they were a trooper at the time and have stories about Cruz. It’s very cool,” Sayre said. “But if you weren’t there at the time, you might not know the story. And by naming this overpass, folks will know that trooper made the ultimate sacrifice for those who were driving that day.”
For more information, visit facebook.com/TrooperJuanCruz