Final Tour: October, 2016

With 17 killed in October, we look back on another bloody month

By Dale Stockton  |   Nov 3, 2016
Photo Dale Stockton

Seventeen officers were lost last month, the second worst month in all of 2016. Only July, when five Dallas PD officers were gunned down, has been more deadly. Our 2016 line-of-duty losses stand at 111 as we end the month of October. Of those, 46 have been lost in vehicle-related incidents, 48 to gunfire and 17 to other causes. We’re slightly higher (5%) than where we were at the end of October, 2015.

The summary of October losses will be followed by information on LODD trends that every officer and trainer should review. Each of you can make a difference in officer safety, both your own and that of others.

Details on October Losses
Of the 17 officers lost in October, eight died because of assailant gunfire, seven died in vehicle-related incidents, one was killed in an accidental shooting and one succumbed to a 9/11-related illness. Listed in order of occurrence, following are the summaries of those who served their final tour during this past month.

Sergeant Steve Owen, 53, Los Angeles (Calif.) Sheriff’s Office, was shot and killed after responding to a burglary in progress call in Lancaster, California. He was checking the rear of an apartment building when the subject emerged and shot him. Another deputy on scene heard the shooting and ran to the rear of the building where he found Sergeant Owen wounded. As he rendered aid, the suspect attempted to steal Sergeant Owen’s marked unit but crashed into a patrol car driven by the other deputy who was trying to stop him. The man then ran into a nearby home where he took two teenagers hostage for several hours. As a SWAT team entered the apartment the man fled but was quickly apprehended. Sergeant Owen had served with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for 29 years. He is survived by his wife and three children.

Investigator Paul Stuewer, 51, N.Y. State Police, succumbed from cancer that he developed while assigned to recovery operations at the World Trade Center site following the September 11th, 2001, Terrorist Attacks. Investigator Stuewer had served with the New York State Police for 26 years. He is survived by his wife, six children, and parents.

Agent Victor Rosada-Rosa, 55, Puerto Rico Police Department, was killed when his police motorcycle was struck by another vehicle on PR-52 in Cayey, following a pursuit and traffic stop at approximately 7:30 p.m. Officers had pursued a vehicle wanted in connection with a theft and were able to get it stopped on PR-52. Agent Rosada-Rosa had stopped traffic to assist with the investigation and to allow a tow truck to remove the vehicle. As he and his partner began to leave the scene his motorcycle was struck from behind by another vehicle. Agent Rosada-Rosa had served with the Puerto Rico Police Department for 23 years. He is survived by his wife and two sons.

Officer Blake Snyder, 33, St. Louis County (Mo.) Police Department, was shot and killed while responding to a disturbance in Green Park, Mo., shortly after 5:00 a.m. He and another officer had arrived at the scene and were met with gunfire as they exited their patrol cars. Officer Snyder was shot at close range and killed instantly. The second officer returned fire and wounded the subject. Officer Snyder had served with the St. Louis County Police Department for four years. He is survived by his wife and 2-year-old son.

Officer Gil Vega, 63 and Officer Lesley Zerebny, 24, Palm Springs (Calif.) Police Department, were shot and killed while responding to a domestic disturbance call shortly after noon. A family member of the suspect went to a neighbor’s house and stated that his son was armed and wanted to shoot police officers. Responding officers, including Officer Vega and Officer Zerebny, arrived at the scene several minutes later. The man inside the home opened fire on them as they approached the front door, killing Officer Vega and Officer Zerebny and wounding a third officer. The man then barricaded himself inside the home for approximately 12 hours. He was taken into custody by members of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team. The subject was an admitted gang member

Officer Vega had served with the Palm Springs Police Department for 35 years and was scheduled to retire only two months after his murder. He is survived by his wife and eight children. Officer Zerebny had served with the Palm Springs Police Department for 18 months. She is survived by her husband, who also serves in law enforcement, and 4-month-old child.

Sergeant Luis Meléndez-Maldonado, 51, Puerto Rico Police Department, was shot and killed as he and other agents were conducting a narcotics trafficking investigation at the Residencial Pedro J. Palou in Humacao, Puerto Rico, at approximately 2:00 p.m. As the officers arrived at the scene they encountered a subject walking in the complex with a rifle. The man opened fire on the officers, killing Sergeant Meléndez-Maldonado. As the man opened fire, two other subjects emerged from a nearby minivan and fired at other officers. The officers returned fire and wounded both men. All three subjects were taken into custody. It is believed that the group had gone to the public housing complex to murder a rival drug dealer. Sergeant Meléndez-Maldonado had served with the Puerto Rico Police Department for 30 years and was assigned to the Humacao Drug Division.

Officer Aaron Christian, 24, Chesapeake (Ohio) Police Department, succumbed to injuries sustained in a single vehicle crash on September 18th, 2016, at approximately 2:30 am when his patrol car left the roadway. The vehicle struck a tree, utility pole, and guardrail before overturning in an adjacent creek. Officer Christian was ejected from the vehicle and landed face down in the creek. Two citizens who witnessed the crash pulled Officer Christian from the creek and away from the burning vehicle. Officer Christian was transported to Cabell Huntington Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia, where he remained until succumbing to his injuries on October 18th, 2016. Officer Christian had served with the two-person Chesapeake Police Department for one year and had previously served with the Coal Grove Police Department. He is survived by his daughter.

Deputy Jack Hopkins, 31, Modoc County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Office, was shot and killed while responding to a disturbance call near the intersection of County Road 115 and County Road 170 at approximately 10:30 a.m. Responding officers took the subject into custody approximately 30 minutes later. Deputy Hopkins had served with the Modoc County Sheriff’s Office for approximately one year and had previously served with the Alturas Police Department.

Sergeant Al Lopez, 47, Los Angeles (Calif.) Sheriff’s Office, suffered a fatal heart attack while responding to assist other deputies who were involved in a high-speed pursuit in Compton at approximately 5:20 a.m. Shortly after he responded from the station a citizen came into the lobby and advised deputies that a patrol car had crashed at nearby intersection and the driver was unresponsive. Deputies responded and began performing CPR on Sergeant Lopez. He was transported to St. Francis Medical Center where he passed away. It is believed that Sergeant Lopez suffered a fatal heart attack prior to his vehicle colliding with a fence at low speeds. The pursuit he was responding to was terminated shortly after it began due to the dangerously high speeds of the fleeing vehicle. Sergeant Lopez had served with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for 26 years and was assigned to the Compton Station. He is survived by his wife and two adult children.

Trooper Timothy Pratt, 55, N.Y. State Police, was struck and killed by a vehicle while assisting a lost motorist in the 300 block of Ballard Road in Wilton, N.Y., at approximately 6:15 a.m. Trooper Pratt was just beginning his shift when he observed a tractor trailer parked in the center turn lane in front of the police barracks in Wilton. After speaking to the driver and providing him directions, Trooper Pratt stepped off the cab of the truck. As he stepped onto the roadway he was struck by an oncoming vehicle. Trooper Pratt was transported to a local hospital before being flown to Albany Medical Center Hospital. He succumbed to his injuries approximately three hours after being struck. Trooper Pratt was a U.S. Air Force veteran and had served with the New York State Police for 29 years. He is survived by his daughter, two sons, and fiancée.

Sergeant Allen Brandt, 34, Fairbanks (Alaska) Police Department, succumbed to complications of gunshot wounds sustained shortly after midnight on Oct. 16, 2016, while responding to a report of shots fired. As Sergeant Brandt arrived in the area he observed a man walking down the sidewalk. He pulled over as he approached the pedestrian, and the man dashed in front of the car with a gun in his hand. Sergeant Brandt opened the door to get behind the police car for protection and the man opened fire, striking him five times in the legs. One additional round was stopped by Sergeant Brandt’s vest. The man then kicked Sergeant Brandt in the head before stealing his service weapon and patrol car. The subject fled the scene in the patrol car but was arrested two days later. A piece of shrapnel from the round that struck Sergeant Brandt’s vest lodged in his eye. On October 27, Sergeant Brandt underwent surgery to remove the shrapnel and save his eye. He suffered severe complications during the surgery and passed away the following day.

Officer James Brockmeyer, 22, Chester (Ill.) Police Department, was killed in a vehicle crash while pursuing a vehicle at approximately 10:00 p.m. His patrol car left the roadway and overturned just south of Union School Road in Randolph County. He was trapped in the wreckage because of the crash. The vehicle he was pursuing continued to flee and its driver remains at large. Officer Brockmeyer had served with the Chester Police Department for only 10 months. He is survived by his parents and sister.

Officer Myron Jarrett, 40, Detroit (Mich.) Police Department, was struck and killed at approximately 10:30 p.m. by a hit-and-run driver. He had been assisting other officers during a traffic stop. Officer Jarrett was re-entering his patrol car as he and his partner prepared to leave the scene. A van traveling at a high rate of speed struck Officer Jarrett, his patrol car, and several other vehicles before stopping a short distance away. The male driver and a female passenger then both fled on foot. The driver was arrested at a bus stop several hours later. The other officer in the patrol car suffered minor injuries. Officer Jarrett had served with the Detroit Police Department for eight years and was assigned to the 12th Precinct.

Deputy Dan Glaze, 33, Rusk County (Wisc.) Sheriff’s Office, was shot and killed while investigating a suspicious vehicle at approximately 11:00 p.m. He located the vehicle in a field and radioed in a description but did not respond to additional radio traffic or calls to his cell phone. Responding units found him inside his patrol car suffering from a gunshot wound. A suspect was identified and located at his home approximately 11 hours later. The man fired at deputies from the residence before being taken into custody. Deputy Glaze had served with the Rusk County Sheriff’s Office for 18 months and had served in law enforcement for seven years.

Deputy Scott Williams, 46, Taylor County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office, was killed in a vehicle crash near the intersection of US 98 and Beach Road at approximately 7:00 a.m. After the collision, his vehicle crossed a grassy median and two oncoming lanes of traffic before coming to rest on the shoulder. He suffered fatal injuries because of the crash.

Sergeant Rod Lucas, 46, Fresno County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Office, was accidentally shot and killed as he and other detectives discussed the safety of backup weapons at their office. During the discussion, a detective’s weapons was accidentally discharged and the round struck Sergeant Lucas in the chest. He was transported to Community Regional Medical Center where he succumbed to the wound a short time later. Sergeant Lucas had served with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office for 20 years and was assigned to the Special Investigations Unit. He is survived by his wife and four children.

2016 &Lessons Learned

We owe it to the fallen to review every LODD and look for lessons that can be passed on to other officers. This is especially important for trainers and FTOs. So far in 2016, 48 officers have been killed by assailant gunfire, 46 have died in vehicle-related incidents, six died as the result of a heart attack, three correctional officers died in assaults, two officers have been killed by accidental (friendly) gunfire, two officers have drowned, two have died due to 9/11-related illness, one officer was lost in an aircraft crash, 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 have been targeted killings perpetrated by a single assailant and notably some of these have resulted in the deaths of multiple officers. Dallas, Baton Rouge and, this past month, Palm Springs are tragic examples.

Sadly, as this article was going to press, two officers in Iowa were killed in ambush attacks by a single assailant. It is these incidents that are the biggest challenge in terms of prevention. A true ambush is a surprise attack carried out by an assailant who is often willing to die in his effort.

Vehicle-related deaths: As of the end of October, 46 officers had died in vehicle-related incidents. Seven of these were motor officers and six have been officers who were struck by a vehicle. Four of the deaths were pursuit related. Vehicle operations are an area where we can improve. Far too many officers are lost to single-vehicle crashes where speed is the primary collision factor.

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. One of the vehicle-related deaths this past month appears to have occurred after a heart attack. Note: This is not an “old guy” problem.

Honor the Fallen

None of those lost during 2016 believed their final tour of duty would take their life. For many, their deaths could easily have been prevented. Remember the tenets of Below 100:

  • Wear your seatbelt.
  • Wear your vest.
  • Watch your speed.
  • W.I.N.–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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