Lori McGrath knew she wanted to be an officer when she was 7. She fulfilled her dream shortly after she turned 21.
That was 29 years ago. On Friday afternoon, her daughter pinned her with a badge signifying that she’s the state’s most senior trooper. McGrath earned the badge after the former most-senior trooper, Ron Larson, retired Thursday.
McGrath, born and raised in Carson City, started at the dispatch center in 1984. After her academy training finished, she moved from the female-dominated dispatch role to the male-dominated commercial enforcement field, becoming the first female commercial trooper, according to Trooper Barb Stapleton.
In 1994, McGrath became one of the first three NHP K9 handlers, but her first dog had a heart murmur and was flunked out of training school. She had another dog, Andy, and then her final dog, Hero, whom she worked with for eight years until the NHP ended its K9 program. From there, McGrath trained a Lovelock deputy who became Hero’s new partner.
McGrath even competed with Hero, winning first- and second-place awards in competitions in California.
Becoming the first female commercial trooper was no small feat. McGrath, with a slender build to match her 5-foot, 2-inch frame, weighed 98 pounds at testing time. Her father, Paul McGrath, a former Carson City sheriff, piled sand into his Marine Corps duffel bag and made his daughter pull it around.
She was preparing for the body-drag test, in which trainers fill a bag with 100 pounds of rocks and the candidates have to haul it.
“A lot of people showed up to see her face that physical,” her former sergeant Tom Hammill said. “There was the seabag full of rocks.”
McGrath fell while pulling the bag during the test.
“I said, she won’t get up, and here we are, 29 years later,” Hammill said. “She crossed the line within the time limit. ... She’s like her dad, like a bulldog.”
Sgt. Janay Sherven, who worked commercial with McGrath before she gained her stripes, said it was not easy to build credibility and trust with the commercial drivers.
“She has a lot of history in her,” Sherven said.
Some of that history is heart-wrenching. McGrath had just finished breaking bread with Daniel Peterson on June 5, 1992. She heard the call come over the radio, initially sent out by a trucker.
“Officer down. You could feel your heart racing. I had a gut feeling it was Danny.”
McGrath held Peterson’s head above the asphalt until the first ambulance arrived. Ahead of her on Interstate 80, truck drivers had blocked the freeway.
Peterson died 13 days after he was hit by a drunken driver. He was walking to a vehicle he had pulled over when the car struck him.
“He was a fighter,” McGrath said. “Thirteen was his lucky number.”
His equipment, 21 years later, is still in McGrath’s locker. When McGrath retires, so, too, will Peterson.
McGrath is one of a handful of master trainers for commercial policing; master trainers train instructors.
Although she is one of the few master trainers in the United States, she still goes out on the road to do commercial stops, looking for tire safety, correct permits, struts and other mechanical issues with semi-trailers.
“I’m going to stay around as long as I can help,” she said. “I’m happy with what I’m doing.”