J.R. Vicha was 11 when Billie Wayne Coble killed Vicha’s father and grandparents, tied him up with three of his cousins and kidnapped Vicha’s aunt.
At 40, the Waco attorney and former prosecutor has already lived longer than his father, Waco police Sgt. Bobby Vicha. The respected and well-liked 18-year police veteran was 39 when Coble ambushed him in the garage of his Axtell home and shot and killed him. Coble’s August 1989 killing spree also included Bobby Vicha’s parents, Robert and Zelda Vicha, who lived just down the road.
Coble’s three-decade stint on death row likely will come to an end next week with his execution, scheduled for Feb. 28. Vicha and his family have waited almost 30 years for Coble’s execution, which they say should have been carried out years ago.
Coble filed an application for stay of execution Thursday with the Supreme Court of the United States, attacking the efforts of his attorneys and alleging he was given drugs at the county jail that rendered him incapable of making his own decisions.
In the meantime, Vicha and his older sister, Jennifer Easter, are proposing to honor their father’s memory in a gesture they hope will endure for generations to come. Vicha wants to name a 4.7-mile portion of U.S. Highway 84 from Farm-to-Market Road 1330 to Vicha Road near Axtell the “Sgt. Bobby Vicha Memorial Highway.”
He has talked to State Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-College Station, and McLennan County Judge Scott Felton, and both said they will do what they can to make Vicha’s request a reality.
Kacal said in a statement that his office is drafting legislation to name that portion of U.S. 84 in Bobby Vicha’s memory.
“I am excited and grateful for the opportunity to work closely with the Vicha family as well as the communities of Axtell and Waco to honor the life and service of Sgt. Vicha in this way,” Kacal wrote.
Felton, who lives about 4 miles from Vicha Road, said the commissioners court likely will consider the matter at its May 5 or May 19 meeting.
“If it is allowed by TxDOT (the Texas Department of Transportation) we would be glad to honor his father,” Felton said. “I knew his father, and he was a fine man. The whole Vicha family are just wonderful people. I was raised with many of them and have known them for many years.”
TxDOT spokesman Ken Roberts said portions of the state highway system “may be designated as a named or memorial highway through state legislation, local ordinance or resolution.” He said a memorial highway or structure may be named only after a “deceased person who was significant in the state’s history or in the lives of Texans.” Requirements for renaming a highway differ from designating a memorial highway, Roberts said.
He said the cost of the signs vary by size and design and are paid by grants or donations to the state highway fund.
Vicha said he got the idea for the project recently when he and his wife were traveling near New Braunfels and saw a sign honoring a fallen officer on Interstate 35.
“I just thought I need to get this done,” Vicha said. “I kind of made it my mission. Once I started it, I was determined to get it done, and fortunately, everybody I talked to was more then willing to help. I am really excited about this. I think it will be a great honor, and presumably, it will be there forever.”
Ken Reeves, president of the Waco Police Association, said the group has pledged money to defray the costs of the highway signs. The association is also chartering a bus for next week so about 25 retired Waco police officers who served with Bobby Vicha can be in Hunstville to support the family at Coble’s execution, Reeves said.
“We are going to help with whatever we can,” Reeves said. “We are going to look at the cost and see what we can afford. We definitely want to support him because the whole family is admired around here, and this whole thing (Coble’s execution) has taken so long. We want to do what we can for sure.”
Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said Bobby Vicha was the department’s vehicle pursuit training officer when he joined the department in 1980. He said Bobby Vicha trained most of the officers in the department and was respected and trusted enough to be chosen to drive the lead car in long motorcades during presidential visits to Waco in the early 1980s.
“That gives you a huge insight into the mountain of credibility he had and the respect people had for him,” Swanton said. “Security wasn’t quite as tight back then as it is now, and Bobby was the guy who got the president where he needed to be on several occasions. That speaks to his level of quality, experience and capability.”
There are a handful of memorial highways in the eight-county TxDOT Waco district, including the Purple Heart Highway, Texas Korean War Highway, Veterans Highway, Blue Star Highway, 36th Division Highway, Port to Plains Highway and the Phantom Warrior Highway, Roberts said.
A spokesman in Kacal’s office said Kacal has filed a bill to name a portion of highway in memory of Department of Public Safety Trooper Damon Allen, who was shot and killed in the line of duty during a November 2017 traffic stop on Interstate 45 in Freestone County. Allen was from Mexia.