Family, friends, and coworkers of SMU Police Officer Mark McCullers gathered in front of the SMU Police Department Wednesday morning at the memorial bench that bears his name to mark the one year anniversary of his accidental death in a Dallas flash flood.
While working a private security detail at a home under construction along Turtle Creek, a flood swept him and his patrol car away at the Fitzhugh Avenue bridge July 5, 2016. While his car was found 13 hours later a half mile down-stream, it took 51 days to find his body near the Trinity River.
On Wednesday, his widow Tiffany McCullers, nursing a recently broken ankle from an accident she suffered while moving out of the apartment she shared with her husband, stood with crutches in front of a large portrait of her husband quietly staring into his eyes one more time.
"It meant a lot," she said of the brief memorial service offered by SMU. "I didn't know if I could make it. I didn't know if I could handle it."
She gets help handling it with her husband's dog-tags around her neck. Worn smooth from constantly rubbing them between her fingers, she says they provide her comfort, as does the Marine tattoo on her left shoulder that matches one her husband had. The same tattoo artist created her tattoo along with the image of his dog tags with his end of watch date of "7-05-2016."
And Tiffany McCullers says she still visits the Fitzhugh Avenue bridge at least once a month. Mark McCullers is buried at DFW National Cemetery. It's the bridge where she says she feels closest to her husband.
"I just go mostly by myself now, just to talk," she said. "It hurts, and yet I feel like I can go out there and say anything and just talk and feel better."
"Just knowing that his service meant something to a lot of people here," the officer's brother-in-law Ben Nix said in praise of the memorial service on the one year anniversary of the accident: an accident overshadowed by the Dallas Police ambush and the deaths of five more officers that would happen two days later.
"Two days from now was probably one of the toughest days that Dallas has had to deal with. But in the shadow of that, was what our family was dealing with,” said Nix.
There are now officer of the year awards at SMU and the Bush Center named after Officer McCullers. Because of him, private police departments like SMU can now receive state death benefits too. They couldn't before. His death has left its mark on a grieving family and a city that didn't know more dark days were still to come.
As for promised flood control changes to Turtle Creek, the City of Highland Park says it continues to study the location, that past studies have identified several projects ranging from action gates to redesigning of roadways crossing the creek. A city spokesperson tells WFAA that "the city is currently working with the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) to secure funding for these projects."