It was almost 40 years in the making — from a tragedy to some long-awaited recognition.
But on Nov. 1, 2023, leaders with the Town of Mount Pleasant gathered to mark the opening of the new Vaughn Ed Kee Parkway, which will not only improve the flow of area traffic but will also serve as a constant reminder of the life and service of a dedicated Mount Pleasant police officer cut down in the line of duty.
“Every day that a police officer goes to work, he is in the line of duty where he may not come home,” said Mount Pleasant Town Councilman Howard Chapman, who attended the parkway’s dedication. “The naming of this road after Vaughn Ed Kee was initiated by former Police Chief Carl Ritchie, recognizing that fact.”
The new $10.66 million two-lane parkway, which stretches for 1-mile through forested area owned by the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, connects U.S. 17 to Rifle Range Road, and serves to disperse traffic to more intersections, versus concentrating it at fewer.
It is the first of a two-phase project intended to provide better connectivity to the roadway network in the northern portion of Mount Pleasant.
“The new roadway incorporates a 10-foot concrete multi-use path that is part of the Mount Pleasant Way spine route,” said project engineer Daniel Williamson.
It will also integrate bike and pedestrian facilities and programs into the town’s road network, linking various destinations within the planning area. The design scope of work followed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.
Williamson added that while actual construction took only about 16 months to complete over 2022-23, its planning took many years to finish and get approved.
“It was discussed for many years and was initially reflected in the 2011 CHATS Long-Range Transportation Plan,” he said. “The design, rights-of-way and construction funding was identified in the town’s fiscal year 2017 Capital Improvement Plan. It was authorized for design in fiscal year 2018 and renamed Vaughn Ed Kee Parkway by the planning commission in 2020.”
Chapman added that he suggested a north-south road in this area more than 20 years ago while acting as the town’s traffic engineer and “developing an official map for the town for planning purposes.”
After Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson (JMT) were selected as design engineers and Banks Construction Company contracted for actual building, construction of the new parkway began June 2022 and was completed in October 2023.
It was originally to be called Long Point Road Extension and the U.S. 17 to Rifle Range Connector road. But it was renamed in honor of officer Kee, who was tragically killed in 1985.
On Dec. 13 of that year, at 2:35 a.m., officer Kee stopped an intoxicated driver on Ben Sawyer Boulevard. After placing the driver in the back of his patrol vehicle, Kee was walking around the car when a second drunk driver approached from the rear, sideswiped the police car and hit Kee.
He was transported to a local hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries approximately four hours later. He was only 25 years old.
“I was a rookie working the morning (he) died,” said Robin Flores, a former North Charleston officer, in 2008 on the Mount Pleasant Officer Down Memorial Page. “My fellow third shift officers and I were just leaving shift change and headed to MUSC to give blood when we were told in the N. Chas. PD parking lot (he) died. I am so sorry I was unable to help. I still think about that day.”
A historical marker was erected in 2003 near the location of the accident at 1233 Ben Sawyer Blvd., and a monument was unveiled in 2023 at Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park near the First Responders Monument.
And Mount Pleasant Town Councilman Jake Rambo said that while the new parkway will greatly benefit area drivers and Mount Pleasant traffic flow, its main importance will be in remembering officer Kee.
“Our officers wake up every day and go to work knowing that it could very well be their last day,” Rambo said. “That was what officer Kee did to keep us safe, and it is our duty to remember the sacrifices our officers make, and the one officer Kee made. And I think this road dedication in his honor will help us do just that.”
By L. C. Leach III