Final Tour: April 2015

An overview of line-of-duty deaths and what can be done

By Dale Stockton  |   May 1, 2015
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We lost six officers in the line of duty during April, bringing the annual toll to 38. That’s a full 10% lower than where we were this time last year. Notable trends thus far in 2015:

  • Ten officers have succumbed to line-of-duty heart attacks. The youngest was 23 and six of the officers were in their 40s. The oldest was 55.
  • Deaths associated with vehicles, although down compared to same time last year, continue to claim many more lives than assailant gunfire. Seventeen have died in vehicle-related incidents while six have been shot and killed by suspects.
  • Accidental gunfire has killed two officers this year. Both incidents occurred in a training environment and the rounds were fired by other officers. One was during role play and one while cleaning weapons. These incidents are especially tragic because they are so preventable and the impact extends far beyond the victim.
  • This marks the third month this year where there have been no losses due to assailant gunfire. Gunfire deaths are now down well over 50% compared to last year and gunfire losses in 2014 were near all-time lows.

During April, four officers died in vehicle-related incidents. One succumbed to a heart attack and one died as the result of an accidental gunshot. Listed in order of occurrence, here are summaries of those who served their final tour:

Officer David Lee Colley, 24, Montgomery (Ala.) Police Department, died in a crash with a semi-truck while running Code 3 in response to a call. The incident happened shortly after 6 a.m. He was transported to Baptist Medical Center South where he died a short time later. The truck driver was not injured. Colley had been with Montgomery PD for two years. He leaves behind a wife and one-year-old daughter.

Officer Jared Forsyth, 33, Ocala (Fla.) Police Department, was shot and killed by another officer while at the Lowell Correctional Institution’s firing range at approximately 3:00 p.m. Forsyth was in an area used for cleaning firearms when an officer’s service weapon discharged striking him in the arm. The round was deflected into the side of his chest, passing between panels on his body armor. He succumbed to his wound approximately two hours later. Forsyth’s father, Timothy Haley, encouraged officers not to judge the 14-year veteran who had unintentionally fired the fatal round. “We must not lose two brothers to the same accident when we still have one,” he said.

Officer Juandre Gilliam, 22, Jeanerette (La.) Police Department, was killed when he crashed during a vehicle pursuit at approximately 10:30 p.m. He was pursuing a vehicle for a traffic violation. His patrol car overturned and Gilliam, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was ejected. The occupants of the vehicle he was trying to stop were later arrested. Gilliam had served with the Jeanerette PD for two years but had only graduated from the police academy three weeks prior to his death.

Corporal Scott Thompson, 47, Manchester Township (N.J.) Police Department, suffered a fatal heart attack while working out in the police department gym as part of the agency’s wellness program. Thompson had been with the agency for 17 years and had previously served with the Seaside Park PD, South Toms River PD and Lakehurst PD. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.

Officer Mike Villarreal, 51, Pearsall (Texas) Police Department , was killed in a vehicle crash near Jourdanton at approximately 1:30 p.m. He was transporting a juvenile offender to a detention facility when his patrol car and a large pickup truck collided head-on. Officer Villarreal died at the scene. The juvenile offender and other driver were both critically injured. Villarreal had served with the Pearsall Police Department for less than one year but had served in law enforcement for 27 years. He is survived by a fiancée and two children.

Deputy Gil Datan, 43, Coos County (Ore.) Sheriff’s Office, was killed in an ATV crash while patrolling timber lands near Coos Bay. Datan’s ATV rolled down a steep embankment and landed on top of him, causing fatal injuries. A major search was undertaken when Datan did not check in at the end of his shift. His body was found several hours later. He had served with Coos County SO for five years but had been in LE for 19 years, having previously served with Myrtle Point PD, North Bend PD, Confederated Tribal PD and Reedsport PD. He leaves behind a daughter.

Analysis
No line-of-duty death is ever acceptable but the grief is compounded when the loss could have been prevented. For far too long we have simply blamed our losses on the “bad guys.” However, it is clear that our own actions play a much more significant role and we can dramatically improve officer safety by simply exercising common sense.

We must honor the fallen by training the living and this means having the courage to use examples of lives lost to point out that these tragedies really do happen. Of the officers who lost their lives in April, not one went to work thinking that would be their last day. For some, the loss could have been very easily prevented.

Vehicles kill more cops than guns. In general, we control the way we drive and we have little control over those who are shooting at us. While not all vehicle-related deaths are the fault of the officer, the heartbreaking truth is that a great number of them are single vehicle, lost control and many result in the ejection of an officer who was not wearing a seatbelt. More than 150 officers have been ejected from vehicles since 1980. The price for not wearing a seat belt is often death.

Your health matters. So far this year, losses from heart attacks far outnumber deaths from gunfire. And this is not an “old guy” problem—we’ve lost many officers in their 20s and 30s. If you’re in good health, you’re better prepared to respond to whatever befalls you on the street—including a gunfight. No one has more control over your health than you. At a minimum, know your blood pressure, your cholesterol level, your body mass index and your family history. Now do something about it!

Please, for the sake of your family, your department and your own life, remember the tenets of Below 100:

  • Wear your seatbelt.
  • Wear your vest.
  • Watch your speed.
  • WIN–What’s Important Now?
  • Remember: Complacency Kills!

Special thanks to the Officer Down Memorial Page for their assistance. For more information on Below 100, check out www.Below100.org.

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Dale Stockton
Dale Stockton is the former editor in chief of Law Officer magazine, and a 32-year-veteran of law enforcement. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, the California Supervisory Leadership Institute, the FBI Southwest Command College and holds a graduate degree from the University of California School of Criminology, Law and Society. He has served as a Commissioner for California POST, the agency responsible for all California policing standards. Stockton has been nationally recognized as the most widely published public safety photographer and writer in the country and taught college level criminal justice classes for 20 years. He has presented nationally at conferences in partnership with the National Institute of Justice and International Association of Chiefs of Police. Stockton is a founder, core instructor and current board member of Below 100. You can follow him on Twitter @DaleStockton.
Dale Stockton

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