A line of men and women stood quietly Saturday afternoon under a light rain, each waiting patiently for a chance to sign the guestbook and enter Hayden Congregational Church.
Once inside, an usher directed visitors past a collection of family photographs, rows of crowded pews, and into a back room set up to handle crowd overflow.
A big screen television would display live video of the upcoming service, and seats had been arranged in long rows.
Saturday’s service was a memorial for Hayden resident Carla Steele, a former public servant who died July 29 in a vehicle crash east of Wyman Museum. Hundreds of people turned out for her service. She was later interred at Hayden Cemetery.
Steele worked as a security guard for Tri-State Generation & Transmission’s Craig Station.
For 16 years before that, she served the Hayden Police Department, first as an animal-control officer and then as a police officer.
In the back room, 18 uniformed officers from various regional law enforcement agencies stood shoulder to shoulder in quiet, formal reverence.
Even more law officers occupied the nave of the church.
When everyone settled into their places, Pastor Janet Babish spoke.
“We’re here to mourn the tragic death of a loved one, a young woman only 48 years of age,” Babish said. “And, we will honor the memory with prayer and music and stories and tears and laughter.”
Then, Babish acknowledged the size of the crowd and thanked everyone for supporting Steele’s family as they dealt with their own sense of loss.
“Amid those emotions, I hope we can still be thankful to God for life,” the pastor said. “For all of life. For that great, great gift.”
In her opening prayer, Babish acknowledged the crash that claimed Steele’s life.
“We have feelings of shock, denial and anger and sorrow and perhaps guilt, among other fond memories,” she said. “So, teach us to be understanding of our own grief, our own fear of death, and respectful of others as Carla would have wanted us to be.”
But, the service was largely focused on celebrating Steele’s life rather than the circumstances of her death.
Corporal Russ Davis was one of two members of the police department to eulogize Steele.
Davis said he’d known Steele since the early 1990s. Davis and Steele attended the police academy together in 1995.
Steele’s approach to learning police work was quick and matter-of-fact, Davis said. On one occasion, a mask-wearing instructor burst into the classroom, fired a cap pistol and exited the room.
“When the instructor left, we were supposed to write down everything we could about the person who did it,” Davis said. “So, we’re all sweating, trying to think what color shirt, what kind of pants (he was wearing).”
Steele had a direct approach to the classroom exercise, Davis said. She simply wrote down the instructor’s name.
“And, she was right,” Davis joked.
Davis added that Steele was an upstanding officer who followed the book and took pride in her work. He said Steele was particularly proud of one DUI arrest, and the thanks she’d received from an unlikely source.
“A couple of weeks later, that person came up to her and said, ‘Thank you for arresting me. You might have saved my life,’” Davis recalled.
Hayden Officer Ed Corriveau spoke next.
“Carla was more than a friend and a coworker,” Corriveau said. “Carla was a teacher, a confidante and an inspiration to others.”
Corriveau said Steele put others before herself, whether they were friends, family or complete strangers.
“She was probably the most unselfish person I could ever meet,” he said.
Corriveau also praised Steele’s police work.
“She had a stunning ability to go into any situation … with the utmost professionalism, never losing her focus, keeping her sights set on the intended outcome,” he said.
Corriveau also shared an announcement with the crowd paying respect Saturday.
“I would like to share that on Thursday (Hayden Police) Chief (Gordon) Booco received a phone call from Congressman Scott Tipton’s office,” Corriveau said. “Through that phone call, we learned Congressman Tipton had gained respect for Carla and was touched by her life. So much, in fact, that he will be honoring Carla on the House floor in Washington, D.C., when Congress reconvenes.
“The legacy of this outstanding person that we know and love as Carla Jean Steele will be forever entered into Congressional history.”
Afterward, Babish invited guests to share thoughts and remembrances of Steele.
One of the speakers was Wynter Lighthizer, Steele’s young granddaughter.
Lighthizer acknowledged the grief felt in the community after her grandmother’s passing.
“I know it’s tough right now, but just think: She is in a better place,” she said. “I love you, Grandma.
“Rest in peace.”
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