Remembering Rantanen

Highway dedicated to trooper killed on duty

First Lt. Gregg Cunningham, commander of the Gladstone State Police Post, honors the late Trooper Darryl M. Rantanen Friday. Family of Rantenen, community members, and officers past and present gathered to celebrate the life and sacrifice Tpr. Rantanen made in 1974. (Escanaba Daily Press photo by Andie Balenger)

ESCANABA — Michigan State Police, community members, and retired police officials gathered at the Bark River Senior Center to celebrate the life and career of Darryl M. Rantanen. Rantanen, a Michigan State Police trooper, was killed in the line of duty in 1974.

Friday’s ceremony honored Rantanen by dedicating a portion of U.S. 2 and 41 between Hyde and Bark River to him and his service as the Darryl M. Rantanen Memorial Highway. Rantanen’s brother, four children, and extended family traveled from various locations across the country to attend the ceremony.

“For 21 years I have worked at the Gladstone Post and I look at Darryl’s picture every day I am working,” 1st Lt. Gregg Cunningham, commander of the Gladstone State Police Post, said. “I don’t know why it took so long to honor him.”

On May 27, Memorial Day in 1974, Rantanen and his partner, Trooper Don Couturier, were notified by the Escanaba Police Department of a high-speed chase on U.S. 2 near M-69. As the duo began to pursue the fleeing vehicle, Couturier, who was operating the patrol car, attempted to move alongside the speeding vehicle, which was later discovered to have been stolen.

In response to this, the 16-year-old driver of the stolen car swerved into the patrol car, forcing it off of the roadway. The patrol car was flipped onto its side and struck a tree as a result of the swerve. The stolen car settled in the ditch on the opposite side of the road and the youths inside fled the scene. Emergency personnel arrived at the scene and transported Rantanen and Couturier to a local hospital.

As a result of the incident, Couturier was severely injured and remained under the care of medical professionals for an extended period of time. Rantanen, who had served in the Michigan State Police for eight years, was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. At the age of 36, Rantanen was the 28th Michigan State Police officer to lose their life while on duty.

The driver of the stolen car was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter and intent to do great bodily harm in Delta County Circuit Court. He was sentenced nine to 25 years in prison.

The naming of the highway comes as a result of House Bill No. 4429, which was introduced by State Representative Beau LaFave in 2021.

“It is a very special occasion today,” Cunningham said. “A lot of family members, officers, and officers that were working the night of the incident are here.”

The two signs alongside the highway, decorated with blue and gold balloons to celebrate the occasion, are located east of the U.S. 41 and D Road intersection and just before Cedar Hill Assisted Living in Bark River.

“Any of the officers who went to the scene that night, or worked with [Rantanen], are still impacted by his career,” Cunningham said. “For all of us in our careers, you see so much. But when it is an officer or a family member [who is killed] it is very impactful. It is something you don’t forget.”

Couturier was unable to attend the celebration due to health conditions. After being invited by Cunningham, Couturier informed him that he would have been unable to make the trip emotionally as well.

“[Couturier] wanted to be here, but he still has the hardest time,” Cunningham said. “It does not matter that the accident was 50 years ago. To him it was yesterday.”

After a presentation by Cunningham, those in attendance took turns sharing stories and memories of Rantanen. Many said that he was a well-known carpenter in the area, his house-building skills impressing even the youngest of children, who were just gradeschoolers when he passed.

“When this happened in 1974, most of us were small or children,” Cunningham said. “We are here to educate the communities who are not aware of this trooper who has been killed. We want to bring his memory back through those signs, because Trooper Rantanen served the community.”

The family of Rantanen was given several flower arrangements, a Michigan State Police grave marker, and shell casings from the 21 gun salute that took place earlier that day by the Michigan State Police. Cunningham concluded the celebration by reciting the Trooper’s Pledge and a prayer for State Troopers.

“That pledge is something that Trooper Rantanen fulfilled,” Cunningham said. “The Rantanen family needs to know that we honor him and that the department has not forgotten his sacrifice.”


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