Video and article credit to WRAL News, By Reporter Matt Talhelm
"State lawmakers voiced unanimous support Wednesday for the Gabe Torres Act named in honor of a Raleigh police officer killed on his way to work the day of the Hedingham shooting.
Gabriel Torres, 29, lost his life Oct. 13, 2022, when he was shot and killed outside his home in the east Raleigh neighborhood. He was one of five people who died when a 15-year-old gunman opened fire.
House Bill 363, known as the Gabe Torres Act, would expand death benefits for public safety workers who are killed “en route to, engaged in, or returning from duty or training," closing a loophole that prevents the Torres family from receiving those benefits.
Torres' death was not covered under North Carolina's current death benefit law because he on his way to work but not yet on duty. If passed, the law would be retroactive back to January 2022 to cover Torres' death.
The state estimates it would pay about $600,000 to families of public safety workers who lost their lives in 2022, and then would budget about $300,000 a year for those benefits going forward.
"We’re really falling short, and I think we need to recognize that our officers are always on duty," said Rep. Sarah Crawford. D-Wake County. "Even when they take that badge off, they’re never not a police officer and they’re going to respond to accidents, to incidents, to tragedies. They’re going to respond whenever they can even if they are at home and off duty."
Lawmakers showed their appreciation to Jasmin Torres, the police officer's widow, after the hearing.
She didn’t want to speak on camera but shared this statement with WRAL News:
“Our law enforcement officers are always on duty and Gabe was no different. In other states this is considered an in line of duty death, and NC is falling short. While we hope we never have to use it, this is a way to honor Gabe, his memory, and ensure that we fix this for the future.”
Lindsay LiCausi, founder and CEO of Back the Blue NC echoed that sentiment.
"A lot of agencies, such as sheriff’s departments and troopers, are able to call on duty right before they step into their car, and that’s when they start their day," she said. "For Gabriel Torres, it was no different. He was ready to start his day and serve his community."
The bill still needs to clear one more committee this month before going to the House for a final vote."
The proposed bill reads as following:
The General Assembly of North Carolina enacts SECTION 1. G.S. 143-166.2 reads as rewritten:
"§ 143-166.2. Definitions. The following definitions apply in this Article: … (9) Official duties. - All duties to which an individual is assigned as part of the individual's job function. This term shall also include those duties performed by an individual while (i) en route to, engaged in, or returning from duty or training; (ii) in the course of responding to, engaged in, or returning from a call by the department of which the individual is a member; or (iii) in the course of responding to, engaged in, or returning from a call for assistance from any department or organization within the State of North Carolina or within a service area contiguous to the borders of the State of North Carolina when served or aided by a department from within the State of North Carolina. While within the State of North Carolina, any covered person who renders service or assistance, of his or her own volition, at the scene of an emergency, is performing his or her official duties when both of the following apply: …."
SECTION 2. This act is effective retroactively as of January 1, 2022, and applies to applicable deaths of covered persons occurring on or after that date when the covered person was en route to, engaged in, or returning from duty at the time of the covered person's death.