Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
PROVO — A Utah family is feeling a sense of closure after a Provo police officer, who died more than a decade ago, is just now being recognized as having died in the line of duty.
It's now fuel for a fight to honor other officers who die under similar circumstances.
Officer Trenton Halladay served in law enforcement for a decade at the Provo Police Department. For most of his career, Halladay worked on a task force responsible for busting countless meth labs that plagued Utah County in the late '90s and early 2000s.
Trent's wife, Lisa Halladay, remembers the stories her husband would bring home.
"He would always tell me, you know, 'That was a good lab because my throat burned for like three-four days,'" she recounted.
Sometimes, she said he would end up in the ER after walking into a home and finding meth in the cooking process, with chemical fumes filling the room.
Lisa Halladay described how back then, officers didn't call in hazmat teams. The safety and health protocols weren't what they are today.
"They would go in with little to no protection," she explained.
As Lisa Halladay watched her husband and the father of their two boys do what he believed in to keep the community safe, she also watched his health decline. Trent Halladay was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, and a doctor gave him six months to two years to live.
"Even his doctor at the Huntsman (Cancer Institute) said that he believed that was the cause of his cancer — the carcinogens from the meth labs," she said.
The doctor, she said, said they could only try to prolong Trent Halladay's life. They couldn't treat him.
Less than six months later, he passed away at the age of 37. His sons lost their dad at 8 and 12 years old.
To add to Lisa Halladay and her boys' devastation, Trent Halladay's name wouldn't go on any law enforcement memorial walls. The sacrifice she saw her husband make for the community wouldn't be honored in any formal way by the government.
"It's been hard for the boys and I to not feel the support," Lisa Halladay expressed.
She felt his death deserved line-of-duty recognition, calling his death a "slow-moving bullet."
Organizations including the Utah State Fraternal Order of Police and Concerns of Police Survivors felt the same way and began what would become a 16-year battle to call Trent Halladay's death what they blatantly saw it as.
"The tragedy was no different than in any other line-of-duty death," said Utah State Fraternal Order of Police President Brent Jex. "And it's putting that together, and it's seeking, really, that justice for the families, and for the agencies, and for the co-workers, and anybody that went into (the meth labs)."
Throughout the years, Jex described how the organizations have taken steps to push for Trent Halladay's name to be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial wall in Washington, D.C.
The drive wasn't just about Trent Halladay or his family.
Jex, who described having personal experience working in the toxicity of meth labs during the same time, has seen many other officers die from a mysterious, sudden onset of cancer.
He estimates more than a dozen Utah law enforcement officers have died from what's believed to be meth exposure-related cancers or tumors. And he's still counting.
Sometimes, he indicated, cancer or tumors developed years later.
Even officers still alive who were part of the constant clandestine meth lab exposures of the late '90s and early 2000s, he expressed, will likely suffer some sort of health impact in the future that will shorten their lives.
Jex explained it is similar to officers who responded on 9/11 who contracted cancer related to the event — and are still being diagnosed — being recognized as dying in the line of duty when they pass. Each year, he said, names from New York Police Department officers who responded to Ground Zero are added to the memorial wall and read at a vigil in Washington, D.C. during Police Week.
"Every time their names were read, it was this screaming in our head, 'What about our guys?'" he expressed.
Every time their names were read, it was this screaming in our head, 'What about our guys?
–Brent Jex, FOP president
Sixteen years later, several pieces came together from the decade-plus of work done by the organizations.
"It's just been that constant pressure and reminding," Jex said.
He pointed out that Tim Chard, an agent with ICE who worked with Trent Halladay, had a lot of documentation from the doctor and was able to be a huge help, serving a role in the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.
Last week, Lisa Halladay and her two sons —now 24 and 28 years old — flew to Washington, D.C.
When they arrived at the airport, a line of officers standing in salute greeted them as they walked off the plane.
The three received a police escort from the airport to the hotel. They attended the annual vigil, where after the ring of a bell, the announcer read the name they've been waiting to hear for the better part of two decades.
"From the State of Utah…. Trenton F. Halladay," the announcer said, to thousands of people.
Lisa Halladay and her sons held candles in the crowd.
She visited the memorial wall where the name "Trenton F. Halladay" is now etched in stone.
"He's where he should be," she said, pausing as tears welled in her eyes. "And, he sacrificed…. I feel like now he can rest in peace."
He's where he should be. ... I feel like now he can rest in peace.
She and Jex know there are more families still suffering — families who they feel deserve the same closure.
Jex explained that the State of Utah Governor's Office has shown interest in local legislative changes and to add Trent Halladay's name to the memorial wall at the Capitol, as well as adding the names of others who passed away in the manner he did.
He said he's working with Congressman Burgess Owens as well on potential federal legislation, looking at language that would make exposure to clandestine labs an automatic line-of-duty death classification.
It's hard to know how long those processes will take to play out.
"I think it was really healing for my boys, and I think these other families need that healing," Lisa Halladay said. "I really do. And that's what I want for them."