More than 3,000 uniformed officers, family and friends gathered on Wednesday to honor the life of Kara Kelly-Borgognone, 33, the first female Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper to die in the line of duty.
Fellow troopers and family called her tough and tender-hearted, a woman who went above and beyond the call of duty to achieve excellence - and in her last moments, gave everything she had to save others.
Coworkers and family spoke of how she inspired others to be the best at their chosen profession, and how she had touched the hearts and lives of many people - even people she did not know.
One member of the crowd of mourners, a woman who had received an organ transplant, came to honor the trooper who donated her organs to save others. The anonymous woman had never met Kelly-Borgognone, but wanted to honor her and the many other courageous organ donors who inform their relatives that they want to give the gift of life.
Mournful strains of bagpipes led the trooper's flag-draped casket, her husband and two young daughters along two lines of Nevada Highway Patrol troopers, to share their grief and good memories of their wife and mother, sister, daughter, friend and honorable coworker.
The mother of two was critically injured on Feb. 25 when her patrol car was slammed by another vehicle while responding to a call. An organ donor, she was kept on life support until her organs could be donated and was pronounced dead three days later.
Kelly-Borgognone was responding to assist in a bomb scare at 10 p.m. when a Chevrolet SUV crashed into her patrol car along Pyramid Highway. The driver of the other vehicle suffered only minor injuries and the accident remains under investigation.
“Kara was thoughtful, caring, compassionate, loyal, strong and steadfast, humble and ever giving until her last moments,” said Chris Kelly, Kara's older brother and also a state trooper.
Trooper Dave Kester, a friend who often worked the graveyard shift with Kelly-Borgognone, said she was fair, honest, dependable and passionate about her work.
“Kara embodied the word spirit,” Kester said. “She was fiery and able to strike down egos with a single bound. You were forced to lower your manly exterior because you knew deep down she could probably take you to task.”
Kester lamented that he never expressed the bond of friendship he felt, and pleaded for everyone to learn from his mistake, by expressing their feelings to those they care about.
Officers from all across the West Coast attended the trooper's memorial service, most displaying a black ribbon worn across their badges in Kelly-Borgognone's honor.
A video with family photos and songs including "Hero" by Enrique Iglesias and "Life is a Highway" by Rascal Flatts, played during the service included a quotation from one of her daughters: “Keep getting the bad guys, mommy.”
The daughter of a Navy chief who was born while her parents were stationed at Naval Air Station Fallon, she attended Missouri’s Columbia College on a softball scholarship and worked eight years as a probation and parole officer before joining the state patrol in 2006.
She earned the Silver Medal of Valor and her supervising sergeant had just submitted her name for an award from Mothers Against Drunk Driving because of the number of DUI offenders she took off the streets.
In 2006, while working as a probation officer, Kelly-Borgognone shot and killed a parolee after he tested positive for methamphetamine and tried to take her gun away. Christopher Michael Tallman, 25, managed to get Kelly-Borgognone’s gun out of her holster but she wrestled it back and shot him in the head and chest.
“She was fearless in her job,” Col. Chris Perry, chief of the Nevada Highway Patrol, said Wednesday. “Tough, fair, no-nonsense, she was always in control,” he said, adding that she also had a “soft side” when she talked about family adventures and how much she “just loved being a mom” to daughters Blair, 13, and Ashlyn, 3.
“I can’t think of a better role model in a world where role models are becoming increasingly scarce,” Perry said.
Patrol Maj. Brian Sanchez said she had a “tempered toughness” that all law officers strive for.
“Kara was a cop’s cop,” he said.
Her widower, Dirk Borgognone, carried their little daughter Ashlyn to place a red rose on the flag-draped casket before addressing the crowd. He expressed his love and devotion to his wife as he spoke in a sob-strained voice of the many joys they shared during their short time together.
“What we had was special,” Borgognone said. "We weren’t perfect but we were perfect for each other. I remember your last words to me — ‘Bye lover, see you tomorrow night.’ You are a hero. Goodbye lover.”
Pastor Steve Bond of Summit Christian Church, where Kara and Dirk attended church services, led the last part of the memorial service. Bond led the crowd in prayer, consoling family with passages from the Bible and reassurance of the constant presence of Jesus Christ to comfort and console them in their times of grief and trial.
Kara's flag was carefully folded and given to her husband before the family, bagpipers and streams of troopers said their final goodbye.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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The family welcomes condolence messages in the family guestbook at the Web site of Waltons Funeral Homes: www.waltonsfuneralhomes.com