COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — After more than two decades as one of the South Carolina law enforcement community's most visible fixtures, the man known as "Trooper Bob" is hanging up his badge.
Lt. Bob Beres tells The Associated Press that he's retiring this fall after 24 years in the Patrol. His last day on the job will be Nov. 30.
One of the Patrol's chief spokesmen, Beres is tasked with giving reporters details about traffic accidents, crash investigations and general safety tips. Standing 6-foot-5, Beres is impossible to miss, a larger than life presence at media events and on the job around the state.
But it's Beres' innovative use of social media that's not only won him legions of adoring fans across the state and region — it also landed him an Emmy award earlier this year.
Beres' journey began in a refugee camp in Austria, where his parents fled from an oppressive Hungarian regime just before he was born. While Beres was still an infant, his parents made the trip to America, where they settled with other ex-pats in Connecticut.
After high school, Beres joined the Navy, serving on an ammunition ship in the Persian Gulf and traveling throughout the world. After four years of service, Beres says he felt a pull to something bigger as he walked off the ship and down a long pier.
"I left with everything I owned in my bag and that was it," he says. "I felt like God put his hand on my head and said, I want you to go help people."
Starting with a security job in Charleston, Beres eventually worked his way up to a job with the Patrol, despite discouragement from his boss at the security job, who told him, "You'll never make it" as a trooper.
Beres threw everything he had into his training. On his first day on the job, he made a special trip, back to the office of his security job boss.
"I shined my shoes up, I shined my car up," he says. "I went inside and knocked on the guy's door. He said, 'Beres,' and I said, 'No sir, it's "Trooper" Beres with the South Carolina Highway Patrol. I just wanted you to know that I'm stationed in Dorchester, and you let me know if you need anything.'"
Ultimately Beres became a community relations officer, one of the faces of the agency that employs more than 900 troopers throughout the state. To handle confusion over how to pronounce his Hungarian last name, Beres began telling people, "Just call me Trooper Bob."
Beres says he then encouraged other Patrol spokesmen also to use first names only on social media, something that makes them relatable and accessible.
"Some guy out there, he doesn't care about our rank," he said. "I want them to see, we're human, too."
Beres was named the 2007 Trooper of the Year, in part because of his work to help a woman who had lost her home in a fire. After the historic flooding that gripped parts of South Carolina in 2015, Beres sought an innovative way to draw attention of the need to heed warnings not to drive around the numerous barricades that blocked off flooded or washed out roadways.
"Finally, I found emoji in my phone, so I put an emoji message together," says Beres, who says the string of pictograms was shared hundreds of thousands of times.
Impressed by the reach of the unique message, the Patrol started using more emoji messaging, crafting an anti-drunk driving campaign based off Beres' tweets that went up on hundreds of billboards around the state. This year, a 30-second TV ad featuring Beres and emoji won an Emmy award.
"If my mom from Hungary can understand this, then anyone can get this," Beres says, of the simple, pictorial messaging that got national attention.
Now, after decades in uniform, the trooper with the wide smile and innovative ideas says it's time for a new adventure.
"I've been in a uniform since I was 18, says Beres, who's now 47. "But I'm going to take a little time off and see where I land. I'm up for whatever."
This story has been corrected to say Beres was honored in 2007 for his work to help a woman who had lost her home in a fire, not his work to build a wall honoring his fallen colleagues.