Remembered Forever: Late Buckner honored with I-65 rename

Published 10:24 am Monday, September 11, 2023

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By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

After a long process, fallen Clanton Police officer Richard H. Buckner is now memorialized on Interstate 65 with a portion being named the Richard H. Buckner Memorial Highway. Between exits 205 and 208 on I-65 will now be known as the Richard H. Buckner Memorial Highway after his partner John Stephens and state representation helped expedite the process to make sure Buckner’s memory lasts forever.

It has been 32 years since Buckner had his fatal wreck responding to a call at Waffle House in Clanton. Buckner hit a pole and was killed, while Stephens was already on the scene. Stephens said he remembers residents lining the streets of Clanton the day of Buckner’s funeral to show their respects.

Since then, Stephens has been holding on to Buckner’s memory and decided it was time to make sure everyone else in the Clanton community did as well.

“I noticed some other signs around that had officer’s names memorialized on the highways, and I thought we needed to do that,” Stephens said.

Stephens got together with Clanton Police Chief Erick Smitherman and Clanton Mayor Jeff Mims about moving towards getting the portion of I-65 renamed. Then, he got District 49 Rep. Russell Bedsole, District 42 Rep. Van Smith and Sen. April Weaver on board to help him. They took care of everything on the state house side.

The resolution to rename the portion of interstate is his name was approved by the Clanton City Council at its July 27, 2022 meeting. The process took over two years to complete, but in August, the signs for I-65 and Richard H. Buckner Memorial Highway came in and were put up.

“They told us everything we needed to do, and we got with Mims and the (Clanton) City Council were awesome and they made it very easy,” Stephens said. “We sent everything to the state, and those three handled it all there. I was really happy for his family, and for his kids and grandkids.”

Buckner is survived by his mother Barbara and father Howard, and he has three kids as well — Rebecca, Brian and Jason. He also has several grandchildren who are continuing their grandfather’s legacy.

“I do not know what to say, we are just so proud of the recognition that they gave our son,” Barbara Buckner said. “It is so good to hear things and know that people did appreciate him.”

Barbara Buckner said a few days after the signs were put up people approached her about the connections they had with her son. She even got a letter from a person in the Carolinas about a time he helped them while they were just passing through.

“We appreciate John Stephens who got together with the representatives who worked to keep these memories alive for so many people over the years,” Barbara Buckner said.

Stephens said every time he is traveling and sees a memorial highway sign, he always takes the time to look the officer up to see how they passed away. He hopes people traveling up and down I-65 do the same when they see Buckner’s memorial sign.

Stephens added that Buckner made a huge impact in the Clanton community, and in his life. He was a big guy and would pick Buckner up by his vest and tell him, “you let me know when you want me to put you down.”

“I know he loved Chilton County and he loved Clanton,” Stephens said. “When I moved to Clanton as a police officer he took me under his wing and showed me everything around.”

Stephens remembers many stories about Buckner, like when Stephens had only been on the police force for three months and Buckner called for him over the radio to meet him at the courthouse in downtown Clanton. When Stephens pulled up, he found Buckner a 1 a.m. grilling hamburgers in full uniform by the front steps of the courthouse for the officers working that night.

“He asked me, “You want cheese on yours?” Stephens said.

He added another story about when Clanton Police purchased a police motorcycle for patrolling, and the current police chief of the time James Henderson told Buckner to not get on the bike. Well, Buckner did get on the bike, started it up, put it in gear and drove straight through the garage door it was being held in.

“That is just the way he was, always into doing stuff,” Stephens said. “It was a great time. He could stop someone and Buckner would treat them like they were best friends. One thing about being a policeman in Clanton is that it is a small community, and the community loves their police. It is just different here.”

Signs for Richard H. Buckner Memorial Highway can be found on both the northbound and southbound lanes of I-65 between exits 205 and 208.