Our line-of-duty death total now stands at 48 for 2012. Eight officers were lost during the month of June, three to gunfire, four in vehicle crashes, and one in an accidental fall according to our partners at the Officer Down Memorial Page.
There is no way that the written word can ever adequately convey the tragedy of these losses. Eight officers, ranging in age from 32 to 57, who had been serving in seven states and one territory, have been taken from us. Each had hopes and dreams and family members who will miss them terribly. Among those family members are 18 children and one grandchild.
With half of 2012 now behind us, our losses are actually more than 50% lower than they were at this same time last year. Even though 2012 started with a terrible January (17 LODDs), we’re on track for one of the “safest” years in recent history. Consider this: We’ve now gone five consecutive months with single-digit losses. That has not happened since 1943—almost 70 years!
Although encouraged by the significant improvement we’re seeing, I am not minimizing the tragedy of our losses. I follow them closely and try to look for any possible lesson that can prevent other officers from dying. I truly believe in honoring the fallen but we must also empower the living to do their jobs as safely as possible. We all have a responsibility to improve officer safety, both individually and across the profession.
On behalf of Law Officer, I extend condolences to every coworker, family member and agency that has experienced a line-of-duty loss. Here are summaries of our losses during the month of June, listed in order of occurrence:
Officer Kevin Ambrose, 55, Springfield (MA) PD, was shot and killed during a domestic disturbance involving a restraining order. His killer was a NYC Corrections Officer who also shot his girlfriend and then took his own life. Officer Ambrose had been with the PD for 36 years.
Deputy Sheriff Mike Smith, 44, Upton County (TX) Sheriff’s Department, was killed in an automobile accident while responding to a fire at an oil tank battery. An oil-field truck crossed the center line and struck his patrol car head-on.
Deputy Sheriff Wayne Hester, 39, Bladen County (NC) Sheriff’s Office, was killed in a vehicle collision while responding to an assault-in-progress call near Elizabethtown. His car went off the road in a curve and struck a tree.
Reserve Deputy Charley Coen, 57, Harper County (OK) Sheriff’s Department, was killed in a single-vehicle crash shortly after midnight while responding to assist an officer in a neighboring town. His vehicle left the roadway and impacted several large hay bales. Coen was trapped in the car and was able to call for help but the hay bales caught fire and he perished in the vehicle before help arrived.
Sergeant Bobby Crapse, 32, Bryan County (GA) Sheriff’s Office, was killed when his patrol vehicle was struck head-on by a wrong-way driver operating without lights at 2:15 am. His K-9 partner sustained minor injuries.
Denver (CO) Police Officer Celena Hollis, 32, was shot and killed during a jazz festival in Denver's City Park. Two groups of people were fighting and Hollis intervened, attempting to stop the fight. One of the subjects involved opened fire with a handgun, striking Hollis in the head.
Puerto Rico Police Agent Victor Soto-Velez, 37, was ambushed while headed to his home. Occupants of another vehicle opened fire, firing at least 15 rounds at his car. Although severely wounded, Solo-Velez was able to provide a vehicle description before he died. The suspect vehicle was later found in flames. It is believed he was targeted for his work as a narcotics agent.
Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Aaron Beesley, 34, died after falling from a cliff while performing a search and rescue mission in Salt Lake County. Beesley was a tactical flight officer and had been placed on the ground to assist in the rescue of two missing hikers. He stayed behind as the two were lifted to safety. When the helicopter returned for him he was found at the bottom of a 90 foot cliff. It is believed he fell while trying to retrieve a backpack.
It must be said again and again that cops do not have to die in the numbers that we have seen over the past three decades. Many of our losses are preventable and, candidly, they just didn’t have to happen. My hope is that all of us will be able to learn from the terrible lessons of the past so that we do not continue to repeat deadly mistakes. Eight officers lost in one month is eight too many. No line-of-duty death should ever be considered as acceptable or without consequence. Our goal should always be to prevent LODDs.
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