Final Tour: June 2015

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

By Dale Stockton  |   Jul 1, 2015

So far in 2015, 63 officers have died in the line-of-duty. Of those, 28 were lost in vehicle-related incidents, 16 to gunfire and 19 to other causes, the majority of which were duty-related heart attacks or illness. Although we’re currently running approximately 11% lower than this same time last year, that’s little comfort to those families and agencies who have lost a loved one.

Now, half way through 2015, here are some observations regarding year-to-date losses and LODD trends.

Gunfire deaths continue to be significantly lower than what we’ve seen over the past several years. Three months of this year (January, February and April) saw no deaths due to assailant gunfire. A single month without a gunfire death is rare, let alone three. Six officers in March, eight officers in May and two in June were killed by hostile gunfire. Overall, losses from gunfire are down 30% compared to this same time last year and last year was noticeably low when viewed long term. Body armor, good tactics and the ability to self- or buddy-treat gunfire wounds are all making a difference.

Deaths associated with vehicles continue to claim significantly more lives than assailant gunfire. Twenty-eight have died in vehicle-related incidents, a full 75% higher than gunfire losses. There is something terribly wrong when trees and poles are killing more officers than gunfire.

Line-of-duty heart attacks killed eleven officers. The youngest was 23 and seven of the officers were in their 40s. The oldest was 55. This is an increasing area of concern and has consistently been the third leading cause of death for police officers. It is notable that these losses are significantly greater than losses due to ambush attacks, yet the topic of ambush is in the headlines (and briefing discussions) much more often.

9/11-related illnesses killed three officers and one officer passed away as the result of injuries suffered ten years prior while breaking up a large fight. One officer died last month during surgery to address a duty-associated injury.

Accidental gunfire while training claimed the lives of two officers, and in both cases the rounds were fired by other officers. These deaths are particularly tragic because they are so preventable and the devastation extends far beyond the victims’ families.

Details on June Losses
In sum, of the nine officers lost during the month of June, five died in vehicle related incidents, two officers died as the result of assailant gunfire, one officer succumbed to a 9/11-related illness and one officer died during surgery for a duty-related injury. Listed in order of occurrence, following are summaries of those who served their final tour during this past month.

Deputy United States Marshal Zacarias Toro, 50, died as the result of cancer that he developed following his assignment to assist with search and rescue efforts at the World Trade Center site after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He was also assigned to provide security for members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency at Ground Zero following the attacks and was exposed to toxic conditions for an extended period of time. His health continued to deteriorate until passing away on June 14, 2015. The World Trade Center Health Program determined that the cancer he developed was a direct result of his exposure to the World Trade Center site. He served with the U.S. Marshals Service for 15 years and is survived by his wife and four children.

Sheriff Ladson O’Connor, 42, Montgomery County (Ala.) Sheriff’s Department, died in a single vehicle crash during the pursuit of a vehicle near the Toombs County and Montgomery County line at approximately 1:00 am. Occupants of the vehicle had fired shots at Toombs County deputies when they tried to stop the car. During the pursuit, Sheriff O’Connor’s vehicle left the roadway and struck a tree, causing fatal injuries. Both occupants of the car being pursued were subsequently arrested.

Officer Rick Silva, Chehallis (Wash.) Police Department, died while undergoing surgery to address a hip injury suffered during a shoplifting arrest. The suspect, who was armed with a knife, struggled with Officer Silva. As a result, Silva injured his hip in the same location as a previous injury. He had previously served with the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

Officer Sonny Kim, 48, Cincinnati (Ohio) Police Department, was shot and killed after responding to a 911 call regarding a subject with a gun. Unknown to police at the time of response, the subject with the gun was actually placing 911 calls on himself. When Officer Kim arrived on scene, the subject opened fire, wounding Kim. The subject fired on other officers and subsequently fought with the wounded officer to take control of his gun. The subject was then shot and killed by police. It was later determined that the subject had intended to commit suicide by cop. Officer Kim is survived by his wife and three sons.

Officer Daryle Holloway, 46, New Orleans  Police Department, was shot and killed during the transport of a prisoner at approximately 8:00 a.m. The prisoner had been arrested for aggravated assault during the previous shift. He had been handcuffed behind his back but managed to maneuver his arms to the front of his body. He was able to access a handgun, which he had concealed on his person and then crawled partially through the vehicle’s partition. The subject fought with Officer Holloway and shot him, causing the patrol vehicle to crash into a utility pole. The subject fled on foot and was captured the following day.

Trooper Eric Chrisman, 23, Kentucky State Police, died in a vehicle crash in Livingston County shortly before 6:00 p.m. He was responding to a reported reckless driver when he failed to negotiate a curve and crossed into the path of an oncoming tractor trailer. Trooper Chrisman’s vehicle was struck on the driver’s side, causing him to suffer fatal injuries. He had served with the Kentucky State Police for six months.

Sergeant Chris Kelley, 37, Hutto (Texas) Police Department, was struck and killed by a subject who had stolen a patrol car following a struggle with officers trying to arrest him. The subject had fled on foot after officers attempted to make a traffic stop at approximately 10:00 a.m. The man ran over a fire hydrant and then fled on foot. Sergeant Kelley located the man and began to struggle with him. The subject broke free, entered an unmarked patrol vehicle, and tried to drive away. He struck Kelley and dragged him a short distance as he continued to flee. Kelley is survived by his wife and two young children.

Sergeant Korby Kennedy, 44, San Angelo (Texas) Police Department, was killed in a motorcycle crash while escorting a parade at approximately 6:00 p.m. He and other officers were escorting a parade of boats for the upcoming San Angelo Drag Boat Races, when a vehicle pulled out of a parking lot into his path. He was transported to a medical center where he succumbed to his injuries.

Officer David Nelson, 26, Bakersfield (Ca.) Police Department, was killed in a crash while involved in a vehicle pursuit at approximately 2:40 a.m. The pursuit started when he attempted to conduct a traffic stop of an unlicensed vehicle. He chased the car for several blocks until his cruiser ran off the roadway and struck a retaining wall and utility pole, resulting in an engine compartment fire. Responding officers removed him from the wreckage before the patrol car became engulfed in flames. The driver of the vehicle he was chasing was arrested the following day after an anonymous tip.

Vehicle Operations Can Be Deadly
Vehicles continue to prove the most deadly aspect of our job. Far more officers die in vehicle- related incidents than by assailant gunfire. In fact, 14 of the last 15 years have seen more losses in vehicle-related deaths than officers lost to gunfire.

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 that have lost control, and many result in the ejection of an officer who was not wearing a seatbelt.

This is an area of common sense officer safety. It’s also an area where peer pressure can be a powerful change agent. If you know someone who needs to slow down or isn’t wearing their seatbelt, tell them that their family needs them and that the risk they’re taking goes far beyond affecting just them. These words can make a difference. Remember: Ignored behavior is condoned behavior.

Heart Attacks Are Up
Line-of duty deaths attributable to heart attacks are not limited to the “old guys.” We’ve lost many officers in their 20s and 30s. Police work demands physical fitness and you’re fooling yourself if you think otherwise. Officers who are out of shape endanger not only themselves but their fellow officers. If you’re in good health you are better prepared to respond to whatever happens 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—and do something about it!

Gunfire Deaths—Why They Are Down
There’s no shortage of guns on the street and suspects have shown an increased willingness to engage officers in deadly encounters. Making the situation worse, there is a strong negative sentiment among society when it comes to those in law enforcement. Why then are we seeing losses due to gunfire trending so much lower? There are multiple reasons.

1) Wear of body armor has become a given for many officers and, perhaps more than any other single factor, this has made a difference. It definitely works, but only if it’s worn. Don’t ever fall into the rationalization trap of “it won’t happen here.” As an example, we’ve had several attacks on officers that have occurred inside police facilities. Think twice before taking off that armor.

2) Tactics have improved significantly and most academies are laying a more effective foundation for officer safety. It took some very deadly encounters to point out our weaknesses. It is imperative that these lessons, written with the blood of many, not fade or be forgotten. A vigilant mindset is key.

3) Self-treatment and buddy treatment, often with the use of a tourniquet, are making a big difference. Lessons from the battlefields of the Middle East have found their way on to the streets of America and many lives have been saved as a result. If you don’t have a tourniquet, get one and make sure that you understand how to use it and keep it where you can access with either hand.

4) Advanced medical treatment has evolved into a science that would have been unheard of just a decade ago. The key is staying alive until help gets there which is why self-treatment capability is so important. Paramedics have also played a critical role. Take time to thank these guys and let them know how much they’re appreciated.

Below 100

The loss of an officer is always devastating to the family, friends and agency 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. That’s the operational principle of Below 100.

None of the officers who lost their lives in June thought their tour of duty would be their last. Nonetheless, they never made it home. For some, their deaths could easily have been prevented. It’s time to take individual and collective responsibility for officer safety, not just of self but of others. We must continually challenge ourselves to learn from our losses and prevent future tragedies. And we must have the courage to speak up and confront other officers when their actions are putting themselves or others at risk.

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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