Around 7:45 p.m. on the evening of June 7, 2009, Nazareth (PA) police received a report of a 31-year-old man with a gun violating a protection from abuse order. The man, who was involved in an ugly custody battle with his wife, kidnapped his nine-year-old son at gunpoint and led police on a 40-mile high speed chase.
Pennsylvania State Troopers Joshua Miller and Robert Lombardo chased down the suspect and the pursuit abruptly ended when Trooper Miller used the PIT maneuver to stop the vehicle. Concerned for the safety of the child, the two troopers approached the vehicle and began to shatter the driver's side window when the suspect opened fire striking both Troopers Miller and Lombardo.
Trooper Miller was killed and Trooper Lombardo was seriously injured. The suspect was also killed in the exchange of gunfire, but thanks to the courageous efforts of Troopers Miller and Lombardo the young boy was not hurt.
Colonel Frank E. Pawlowski, Commissioner of the Pennsylvania State, called Trooper Miller a "trooper's trooper obsessed with physical fitness and taking drunken drivers off the road . . . On Sunday, June 7, 2009, there would be no compromise of duty," he said. "Evil was met with bold courage and an unrelenting will to do what must be done."
Joshua Miller was one of the 116 federal, state and local law enforcement officers killed in communities across America last year. All of their names will be officially added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., at the annual Memorial candlelight vigil on May 13. When those names are added, along with 208 newly discovered line-of-duty deaths from earlier years, there will be 18,983 names inscribed on the Memorial walls.
While the personal tragedies behind each and every one of those names can never be diminished, there was a bit of good news hidden in the fatality figures from 2009; fewer law enforcement lives were lost in 2009 than in any year since 1959, when 109 officers made the ultimate sacrifice.
For the 12th straight year, traffic-related incidents claimed the lives of more officers (51) than any other cause of death, although that figure was 28 percent below the 71 traffic-related deaths in 2008. Thirty-eight of those officers died in automobile crashes, 10 were struck and killed by vehicles and three died in motorcycle crashes. Among that latter group was South Carolina Highway Patrol Lance Corporal Jonathan Nash, who was killed in a motorcycle crash while leading a remembrance ride for another fallen officer from his department, Trooper Hardy M. Godbold, who was killed by a drunken driver in a 1992 automobile crash.
Forty-nine officers were killed by gunfire, which was 23 percent higher than the 40 firearms-related fatalities that occurred in 2008. A big reason for this increase were five multiple-death shooting incidents that resulted in the loss of 15 officers-more than in any other year since 1981. Four of those officers-Mark Dunakin, Ervin Romans II, Daniel Sakai and John Hege-served with the Oakland (CA) Police Department and were killed on March 22. Two weeks later, on April 4, three Pittsburgh (PA) police officers-Stephen J. Mayhle, Paul J. Sciullo II and Eric Kelly-were murdered during a domestic disturbance call. Later that same month, on April 25, two Okaloosa County (FL) deputies-Warren "Skip" York and Burt Lopez-were gunned down while trying to make an arrest.
On July 26, Deputy Robbie Whitebird and Captain Marvin Williams of the Seminole County (OK) Sheriff's Office were shot and killed while attempting to make an arrest. And, on November 29, a lone gunman walked into a Pierce County (WA) coffee shop and opened fire on four officers from the Lakewood (WA) Police Department. The four officers killed that day were Sergeant Mark Renninger, and Officers Ronald Owens, Greg Richards and Tina Griswold (the only female officer killed nationwide in 2009).
Among the other causes of death in 2009, 12 died of job-related illnesses, and four were killed in helicopter crashes. Three of those officers killed in helicopter crashes were special agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration. Chad Michael, Forrest Leamon and Michael Weston died on October 26 when their helicopter went down in Afghanistan during a joint counter-narcotics operation in support of American and coalition military forces.
On average, the officers who sacrificed their lives were 38 years old and had served for 11 years. The youngest officer to die in the performance of duty last year was 21-year-old Joshuah Broadway, of the Montgomery (AL) Police Department. The oldest was Henry Willeford, a 75-year-old Reserve Deputy with the Van Buren County (AR) Sheriff's Office. Reserve Deputy Willeford had served for 55 years and left behind a wife and 15 children.
Six of the officers killed in 2009 were correctional officers. Florida Correctional Officer Adam Sanderson and Las Vegas (NV) Metropolitan Corrections Officer Daniel Leach died in automobile crashes. Georgia Corrections Officer Jack Cannon, and Harris County (TX) Detention Officer Dionicio Camacho both suffered fatal heart attacks during training exercises.
Ronnie Brown, a Detention Sergeant with the Polk County (FL) Sheriff's Office, died from injuries suffered when he attempted to restrain an inmate. And, Orange County (FL) Correctional Officer Mark Parker succumbed to injuries suffered in a shooting 25 years ago. Correctional Officer Parker was paralyzed from the chest down when a gunman opened fire at the Orange County Courhouse on January 10, 1984. Two other officers, Harry Dalton and Arnold Wilkerson, were also killed in the incident.
On August 19, Corporal Mike Roberts, 38, of the Tampa Police Department was shot and killed after stopping to question a man pushing a shopping cart along the roadway. During the questioning, the man became combative and pulled a gun from his shopping cart. He struck Corporal Roberts several times with the gun and then fired a single shot that hit the 11-year police veteran in an area not protected by his bullet-resistant vest.
Corporal Roberts is survived by his wife and three-year-old son. Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio issued a statement following his death saying, "The City of Tampa has suffered a terrible tragedy . . . Gunned down while working to make Tampa a safer place to live, Corporal Roberts served as an example of the outstanding commitment and dedication of our police force . . . May his son grow up knowing that his father was our hero."
Craig W. Floyd is Chairman of the National law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Visit www.nleomf.com for more information about law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
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