A Deadly End to Summer

By Dale Stockton  |   Oct 3, 2016
Photo Dale Stockton.

Fifteen officers were lost during the month of September. Eight officers died in vehicle-related incidents, three were killed by assailant gunfire, two succumbed to heart attacks, one was stabbed, and one drowned during training. The loss of these officers brings the total loss for 2016 to 94. Now three-fourths of the way through the year, we’re running five percent lower than the losses at the same time last year.

So far this year, 40 officers have died as the result of assailant gunfire with 21 of those taking place in the last three months. Overall, gunfire deaths are up 43% compared to this same time last year. Many of these deaths have been targeted attacks against police in general, as opposed to taking place during an enforcement contact or other police initiated contact. Vehicle-related deaths (39) are up slightly (5%) compared to last year.  The frequency of heart-attack-related LODDs is significantly less than what we were experiencing in 2015 at this time (6 vs. 16).

After a summary of how our losses occurred during September, we’ll take a look at overall trends for 2016 and provide some information that all officers need to know in order to improve officer safety. On behalf of everyone at Calibre Press, I extend the deepest condolences to those who have lost an officer.

Listed in order of occurrence, following are summaries of the losses for September.

Officer Clint Corvinus, 33, Alamogordo (N.M.) Police Department, was shot and killed during a foot pursuit of a subject. He and a rookie officer he was training had conducted a traffic stop of a wanted felon. The man fled on foot during the stop and exchanged gunshots with the officers. Despite being wounded, Officer Corvinus was able to return fire and killed the subject. Officer Corvinus was transported to Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center where he succumbed to his wounds. Officer Corvinus had served with the Alamogordo Police Department for 4-1/2 years. He is survived by his daughter.

Senior Officer Amir Abdul-Khaliq, 46, Austin (Texas) Police Department, died as the result of injuries sustained four days earlier in a police motorcycle crash. He was providing an escort for a funeral and was attempting to reach the next intersection when a car tried to turn left through the procession. The car pulled directly into his path, causing him to strike it. He was transported to University Medical Center Brackenridge where he remained until succumbing to his injuries.
The driver who caused the crash was cited for failing to yield to an emergency vehicle. Officer Abdul-Khaliq was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and had served with the Austin Police Department for 17 years. He is survived by his five children.

Lieutenant Waldemar Rivera-Santiago, 50, Puerto Rico Police Department, was killed in a motorcycle crash while on his way to police headquarters. He was killed instantly when his police motorcycle collided with a truck. Lieutenant Rivera-Santiago had served with the Puerto Rico Police Department for 30 years. He is survived by his wife and six children.

Deputy Kenneth Maltby, 73, Eastland County (Texas) Sheriff’s Office, was killed in a vehicle crash on FM 570 south of Eastland. A vehicle traveling in the opposite direction swerved into the opposite travel lane to avoid another vehicle but instead struck Deputy Maltby’s patrol car head-on. Deputy Maltby suffered fatal injuries and died at the scene. Deputy Maltby had served with the Eastland County Sheriff’s Office for two years after having retired from the Dallas Police Department.

Master Deputy Brandon Collins, 45, Johnson County (Kan.) Sheriff’s Office, was killed when his patrol car was struck from behind while he was conducting a traffic stop in Overland Park at approximately 1:30 a.m. He had returned to his unit and entered his car when a pickup truck struck it from behind, causing it to burst into flames. The driver of the pickup truck fled the scene on foot but was arrested a short time later. Deputy Collins had served with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office for 21 years. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.

Officer Tim Brackeen, 38, Shelby (N.C.) Police Department, succumbed to gunshot wounds sustained two days earlier while attempting to arrest a subject wanted for armed robbery and kidnapping. He was searching the area when other officers who were on scene heard several gunshots. They located Officer Brackeen moments later suffering from gunshot wounds. He was taken to Cleveland Regional Medical Center and then transferred to Carolinas Medical Center, where he remained until succumbing to his wounds. The 23-year-old suspect was captured four days later by a SWAT team in Coventry, R.I. He was transported to a local hospital where he was treated for a gunshot wound to the left torso. The round had been fired by Officer Brackeen. The suspect is now in the Rhode Island Correctional Institution and fighting extradition. Officer Brackeen had served with the Shelby Police Department for 12 years and was assigned to the canine unit. He is survived by his wife and daughter.

Officer Robert Barker, 26, McCrory (Ark.) Police Department, was killed in a vehicle crash while responding to assist members of the Woodruff County Sheriff’s Office at approximately 5:00 am. Officer Barker’s patrol car struck a deer on Highway 17, south of Patterson, and then left the roadway and overturned. Officer Barker had served with the McCrory Police Department for four years.

Officer Jason Gallero, 45, Cook County (Ill.) Sheriff’s Office, suffered a fatal heart attack while participating in a morning run at the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Training Academy in Maywood. Officer Gallero, who was an instructor with the academy, was running with cadets and other instructors when he collapsed. He was transported to Gottlieb Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead at approximately 8:30 a.m. Officer Gallero had served with the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Department for 14 years and had previously served with the Cook County Department of Corrections for eight years. He is survived by his daughter.

Trooper Kenneth Velez, 48, Ohio State Highway Patrol, was struck and killed by a vehicle while conducting a traffic stop on I-90 in Cuyahoga County. Trooper Velez had served with the Ohio State Highway Patrol for 27 years. He is survived by his wife and three children.

Correctional Officer Kenneth Bettis, 44, Alabama Department of Corrections, succumbed to stab wounds sustained on September 1st, 2016, when he was attacked by an inmate at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore. The inmate attacked and stabbed Officer Bettis after being denied an extra food tray during the prison’s lunch service. Officer Bettis was flown to the University of South Alabama Hospital where he remained until succumbing to the stab wounds. The inmate, who had been serving a 20-year sentence for robbery, was charged with murder. Officer Bettis was a combat veteran of the Alabama Army National Guard.

Sergeant Kenneth Steil, 46, Detroit (Mich.) Police Department, succumbed to gunshot wounds sustained on Sept. 12th, 2016, while chasing a subject who attempted to carjack a vehicle. As officers arrived on scene of the carjacking at a gas station, the main suspect fled on foot. As Sergeant Steil pursued him, the subject turned and fired a sawed-off shotgun, striking Sergeant Steil in the shoulder. Two other officers were able to subdue the man and take him into custody. It was later determined that the subject had shot his father in the foot the previous night. He was charged with two counts of attempted murder and several other felonies. Sergeant Steil was transported to St. John Hospital where it was initially believed he would recover. However, he experienced complications and died on Sept. 17th, 2016. Sergeant Steil had served with the Detroit Police Department for 20 years and was assigned to the 9th District. He is survived by his wife and two young sons.

Sergeant Kerry Winters, 51, Ulster County (N.Y.) Sheriff’s Office, drowned while conducting a training dive with the UCSO’s In-Water Rescue Team in Ashokan Reservoir at approximately 12:30 p.m. He became separated from his two dive partners during the dive and was found unresponsive a short time later. He was brought to the surface where other deputies performed CPR and utilized an AED. He was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. Sergeant Winters had served with the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office for 31 years and was assigned to the Corrections Division. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Agent Edwin Pabón-Robles, 43, Puerto Rico Police Department, was killed in a vehicle crash as he and his partner responded to an emergency call in Carolina, Puerto Rico, at approximately 1:30 a.m. Their patrol car left the roadway and overturned as they exited from the Teodoro Moscoso Bridge to Román Baldorioty de Castro Expressway. Neither officer was wearing a seat belt. Agent Pabón-Robles was killed in the crash and his partner was seriously injured after being ejected from the patrol car. Agent Pabón-Robles had served with the Puerto Rico Police Department for five years and was assigned to the San Juan Highway Division. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Deputy Sheriff John Isenhour, 38, Forsyth County (N.C.) Sheriff’s Office, was struck by a vehicle at the entrance to Tanglewood Park at approximately 10 a.m. while he was working at an annual cycling event. He was transported to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, where he succumbed to his injuries ten days later. Deputy Isenhour had served with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office for eleven months and was a 17-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He is survived by his wife and children.

Jailer Robert E. Ransom, 62, Gregg County (Texas) Sheriff’s Office, suffered a fatal heart attack while responding to an inmate’s medical emergency in the Marvin A. Smith Criminal Justice Facility. As other deputies tried to revive the inmate, Jailer Ransom rushed to retrieve an AED. He collapsed moments later. Both he and the inmate were transported to a hospital where he passed away. The inmate survived and was returned to the jail. Jailer Ransom had served with the Gregg County Sheriff’s Office for11 years and had previously served with the Porter County (Ind.) Sheriff’s Office for 25 years.

2016 & Lessons Learned

So far in 2016, 40 officers have been killed by assailant gunfire, 39 have died in vehicle-related incidents, six died as the result of a heart attack, three correctional officers died in assaults, two officers have drowned, one officer was lost in an aircraft crash, one was killed by accidental (friendly) gunfire, one died due to 9/11-related illness, and one succumbed to injuries after being thrown from a horse.

Gunfire deaths: Only twice in the last 20 years have losses attributable to assailant gunfire exceeded those lost in vehicle operations. However, if current trends hold, we may end 2016 with more deaths from gunfire than vehicles. Several of the shootings this year were targeted killings perpetrated by a single assailant.

Wear your armor, even if you’re training or on an administrative assignment. Regardless of title—wear it.

Many of the gunfire deaths experienced in 2016 have been related to high-risk activities such as a call of a subject with a weapon, warrant service or taking a wanted subject into custody. Many of the losses were situations where there was indication of significant potential danger. A change in tactics, slowing a situation down or choosing better cover may have saved lives. Put the odds in your favor whenever possible.

As you’re headed to a call, take in all the information possible and have an awareness of where other responding units are. Communicate a plan and a direction of approach that minimizes cross-fire potential. Don’t drive right into an evolving scene. Use contact-and-cover tactics and remember that concealment is not cover.

Vehicle-related deaths: These have been the leading cause of death in 18 of the last 20 years. So far this year, 39 officers have died in vehicle-related incidents. Six of these were motor officers and five have been officers who were struck by a vehicle. Three of the deaths were pursuit related. This is an area where we can definitely improve. We lose far too many officers to single-vehicle crashes where speed is the primary collision factor.

Remember: You can’t help if you don’t get there and you actually make the situation worse if you crash because you pull away needed resources!

Fitness: Line-of-duty heart attacks have claimed the lives of six officers thus far in 2016 and 17 officers during all of 2015. Heart attacks continue to be the third leading cause of line-of-duty deaths for police officers. This is not an “old guy” problem. We’ve lost many officers in their twenties and thirties. Fitness has always been key to officer survival. Get your baselines (blood pressure, family history, cholesterol, etc.) checked and stay active. You owe it to your fellow officers to maintain your fitness.

Honor the Fallen

Below 100 trainers believe the best way to honor our fallen is by training the living. The sad truth is that many of our losses, including some this past month, were preventable and, candidly, they just didn’t have to happen. No line-of-duty death should ever be considered as acceptable or without consequence.

Remember the tenets of Below 100!

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

For more information visit Below 100. Special thanks to the Officer Down Memorial Page for their assistance in providing line-of-duty death information that forms the basis for the Final Tour series.

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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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