While a law enforcement officer's last call out can be a sobering moment, it can also signal a new beginning. That's the case for Colorado State Patrol Trooper Brett Hilling, who retired March 23 after 22 years with the Colorado State Patrol.
Hilling was raised in a small farming community in Idaho much like Delta. He served in the military for seven years, then the National Guard, before joining the Mesa County Sheriff's Office. He worked at the jail before joining the Colorado State Patrol in 1995.
He was initially based in Steamboat Springs, where in 2007 he made headlines after arresting Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Hilling said he viewed getting drunk drivers off the roadways -- before they crashed -- as one of the most important aspects of his job. A photo on his cell phone is a constant reminder of a military colleague who was killed by a drunk driver in 1985. A Green Beret, he had a wife and a baby daughter.
"That's certainly stayed with me," Hilling said. Every year for 20 years, he was ranked high among troopers statewide for DUI arrests. He received the Governor's Peak Performance Distinguished Employee Award for his work with drunk driving education and enforcement.
Trooper Hilling is also one of two drug recognition experts from the Colorado State Patrol recognized by the Colorado Supreme Court. He's taught drug recognition classes across the state, and says those arrests now eclipse driving under the influence of alcohol. It's not all due to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado; the trooper says drivers are also getting behind the wheel under the influence of methamphetamine and pain killers.
Throughout his career, he said he has embraced the Colorado State Patrol mission to make a difference. "Over and above all, I've tried to do the right thing."
The trooper and his wife, Colleen, moved to Delta in 2011. Their two children were grown and they were ready to get out of the snow. They traveled the state exploring options before they decided to move to Delta. They were later joined by son Evan, who became a state trooper four years ago. Dad had the privilege of pinning his son upon graduation from the training academy in Golden. They've patrolled the same roads for the past four years.
Brett has shared the same advice with Evan as he's told other recruits he's trained over the years: "You have to go home, be with your family, be a father and a husband, and don't be a trooper all the time ... otherwise this job will eat you up."
Although law enforcement can be stressful, the negatives were generally offset by the positives. At the end of a shift, Hilling often quietly laughed to himself over an encounter he summed up with the words, "You can't make this stuff up."
Hilling said he enjoyed working with minimal supervision, interacting with the public, and making a difference. He talks about patrolling Rabbit Hills Pass in February and coming upon a vehicle that slid into a snowbank. The driver had already called a tow truck, but was still so relieved to see the patrol car pull up. "In reality, you can't do a lot for them, but they're still so happy to see a trooper pull up to help them. Even when people crash they're happy to see you."
Hilling plans to take it easy for a while and work in his 1980 Corvette.