Several years ago, I remember sitting on the couch at the home of a woman named Arlene Lewis.
She was on oxygen and only had a matter of weeks to live. Cancer had taken its deadly hold.
Yet, friends and family had gathered at her home and Arlene was in her usual good spirits.
After all, everyone was there to remember and honor her son, Scot S. Lewis, a Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer who was shot and killed in October 1995.
Earlier in the day a memorial service was held at the cemetery where Scot was buried. Scot’s partner, Keith DeVille, had spoken about his friend and colleague.
He told of how they were just seven minutes from going off duty when they were flagged down by a motorist who needed help. According to Keith, the situation was right up Scot’s alley – he loved to help people.
The man, it turned out, could neither speak, nor hear. Later, it was learned that the man wanted to report that his home had been burglarized.
But Scot would never know. As they waited for an interpreter to arrive, another motorist drove up and pretended to know the deaf man. His name was Melvin Darnell Pate.
He engaged in some friendly conversation, then got out of his car, walked up to Scot, pulled out a gun and without any provocation whatsoever, shot him in the head at point-blank range. Pate had been on a three-day drug binge and simply decided to go out and kill a cop.
He tried to escape after grabbing Scot’s gun, but Officer DeVille fatally shot him as he was attempting to get away.
Like Scot Lewis, so many of the officers honored at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. were simply offering a helping hand when they were tragically taken from us.
On May 11, 1924, Wilmington (DE) Police Matron Mary T. Davis was all alone on the second floor of the Wilmington jailhouse with the only female prisoner, a woman named Annie Lewis who had threatened her husband with a pistol. When Matron Davis noticed water coming out of Lewis’s cell, she unlocked the door and went in to help.
It was all a ruse, though. Lewis had broken the water pipe leading to the sink and used it to break pieces of concrete from the cell wall.
As soon as Davis entered, Lewis used one of the chunks of concrete to launch a vicious and fatal attack against the 67-year-old police matron. The funeral procession for Matron Davis was the largest Wilmington had ever seen. The inscription on her gravestone explains why. It reads, “Mary T. Davis – A Friend to All.”
Charlie Barton was a 35-year law enforcement veteran who served with the Loudoun County (VA) Sheriff’s Department. He had a way of lifting the spirits of those around him, usually with a joke, but his friend and colleague, Tod Thompson, said, “When the bell rang, Charlie went to work.” On August 21, 1995, Deputies Barton and Thompson were on a flight to Mississippi to bring a wanted felon back to Virginia when their plane experienced engine trouble and crashed.
The two deputies survived the crash, but were unwilling to leave the plane until they helped the other passengers out first.
As he was offering assistance, Deputy Barton was hit hard by a flash of fire when the plane exploded. He clung to life for another 14 hours before he succumbed to his severe burns.
Jimmy O’Connor seemed to be living a life of destiny. Twenty-seven years earlier he was born at home on the bathroom floor, delivered by two policemen.
It only made sense that Jimmy would go on to become a Chicago police officer. On September 16, 1995, Jimmy was off duty and sitting in his truck talking to two female friends standing alongside when another car pulled up and a man reached out and snatched one of the women’s purses. Jimmy immediately gave chase and after managing to overtake the other vehicle and blocking its path, he got out with gun drawn and identified himself as a police officer. Shots were exchanged and both Jimmy and the other shooter were killed.
Texas State Trooper Mark Phebus, 23, was on his way home to Houston after a weekend visit with friends in Oklahoma when he spotted what appeared to be a two-car traffic accident along the side of the road. It was after midnight on September 17, 1990, and Trooper Phebus stopped to offer assistance. After identifying himself as a police officer to the man and woman involved, he walked back to his car to get a flashlight.
Everything seemed routine up to that point.
But Trooper Phebus had unknowingly placed himself in a terribly dangerous situation.
The traffic accident was actually the result of a violent domestic dispute between a man and his estranged wife. When Mark went to get his flashlight, the man got a handgun from his car. As Trooper Phebus approached, the man pointed the gun at Mark’s face and pulled the trigger.
At the funeral, Pastor Wayne Hicks said, “Mark chose to live a life of service to others . . . he died for what he believed in. He may have saved a woman’s life that night. Mark died a death of honor and valor.”
Patrolman Thomas Strunk, a three-year veteran of the Billerica (MA) Police Department, was also off duty on March 27, 1985, when he put himself at risk.
He was on his way home from the doctor’s office with his wife, Nancy, and three young sons in the car with him.
They were just a few miles from home when Tom saw a car ahead of him swerving all over the road. After following the vehicle for a short distance he became convinced that the driver was probably drunk and posed a serious threat to others on the road.
He decided to pull the car over. He walked to the man’s car, identified himself as a police officer, and asked the driver to please step out of his vehicle. Instead, the man immediately tried to flee.
No doubt the man’s drunken state, his prior criminal record and the drugs he had in the car all contributed to that decision.
Patrolman Strunk reacted quickly. He reached into the car and tried to shut the engine off and take away the keys.
But the man rolled the car window up, trapping Tom’s arm. The man then sped off, dragging Tom alongside at speeds reaching 55 miles per hour. With his wife and sons watching from their car in horror, the car crashed into a pole and Tom died less than an hour later.
As so often happens in drunk driving cases, the man who murdered Tom Strunk threw himself on the mercy of the court and plea bargained a light sentence.
Meanwhile, Nancy and her three sons cling to the memories of a wonderful husband and father – a man who died helping others while doing the job he loved.
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.
Add this page to your favorite Social Bookmarking websites