Tribute paid to fallen MARTA officer, a former Ga. Tech standout

Scores of metro Atlanta public safety officers and personnel turned out Saturday to funeralize a MARTA police officer remembered for his broad smile, good nature and generosity.

Jesse Tarplin, an 11-year veteran of the MARTA force, died last week while working off duty escorting a funeral procession near Cascade Road. Tarplin’s motorcycle collided with a vehicle that was stopped for the procession.

Known as “Art” by his family and friends, Tarplin had five children and was expecting a sixth.

Tarplin, 38, was a graduate of Cross Keys High School and went on to to become a football standout at Georgia Tech, where he played from 1995 to 1998.

Saturday’s funeral service at a southwest Atlanta church stretched almost three hours and mixed the traditional pomp of an official public safety ceremony and tearful tributes from some of Tarplin’s closest friends, family and fellow officers.

Jerry Caldwell, who was in the same 1995 Georgia Tech football recruiting class as Tarplin, compared his friend to a Swiss Army Knife. Whatever needed to be done, Tarplin could make it happen, Caldwell said. He also recounted how Tarplin shared his faith with other members of the team, inviting them to church — and a meal from his mother — on Sunday mornings after Saturday gamedays.

Caldwell then led a large contingent of Georgia Tech alumni and representatives in a rendition of the school’s “Ramblin’ Wreck” fight song.

MARTA police Sgt. Edgardo Fuentes assured Tarplin’s father, also named Jesse, that Tarplin would be remembered by the department each year during the Georgia Police Memorial Ride. Tarplin participated in the annual motorcycle ride to honor law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty each year, Fuentes said. Tarplin’s father made the request last week at Grady Memorial Hospital, where Tarplin was taken after the collision.

Prior to escorting Tarplin’s body to the burial site, officers gave the former motorcycle officer one final ride on the streets around the church.

“Jesse was passionate about his work, he was passionate about his family and was passionate about … riding. Those are traits we shared,” Fuentes told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Fuentes worked with Tarplin throughout his entire 11-year MARTA police tenure. “What he brought to this department was such a, wealth of love and knowledge, along with compassion that is going to be sorely missed.

Tarplin's death has galvanized the law enforcement community throughout the state. A GoFundMe account established by fellow officers, known as the Blue Line, had raised more than $18,000 for Tarplin's family by Saturday evening.