Dale Stockton | Saturday, November 1, 2014
Twelve of America’s Finest lost their lives during October. The month was looking like it could be the least deadly of the year because on Oct. 23, the level of loss stood at two; one from gunfire and one from a vehicle crash. Instead, the month turned out to be one of the deadliest of the year. Everything changed on Oct. 24 when two California deputies in two different counties were gunned down by a single suspect. Their deaths were quickly followed by the loss of seven more officers. By the end of the month, we had lost five officers in vehicle-related incidents, four to gunfire and three to duty-related heart attacks. All of the heart attack victims were in their forties.
The week of Oct. 24 through Oct. 31 turned out to be the deadliest week thus far of 2014 with nine officers dying in a variety of ways. No line-of-duty death will ever be acceptable but to lose so many in such a short period of time is especially devastating. What happened and what can we learn from these losses? Here’s the story behind each loss, listed in order of occurrence:
The first LODD of the month occurred on Oct. 9 when Midland County (Tex.) Sheriff’s Sergeant Michael Joe Naylor, 46, was shot and killed as he and other deputies served a warrant on a sexual predator at a home. The suspect refused to come to the door and deputies broke out a window to establish contact. Sergeant Naylor was communicating with the suspect when he suddenly produced a firearm and shot the sergeant in the head. Other deputies pulled Naylor to safety and he was transported in a waiting ambulance but later succumbed to the wound.
The second LODD occurred on Oct. 20, when Alton (Mo.) Police Officer Eddie Johnson, Jr., 45, died in a single vehicle crash that occurred as he was responding to a report of a structure fire. His vehicle left the roadway and overturned several times. Officer Johnson was ejected from the vehicle. Johnson also served as a reserve deputy with the Oregon County Sheriff’s Office and as the volunteer fire chief for the City of Alton.
On Oct. 24, at approximately 1030, Sacramento County (Calif.) Deputy Danny Oliver, 47, approached a suspicious car in a parking lot. An occupant of the car aimed a rifle at Deputy Oliver and shot him in the forehead. Multiple carjackings followed and a civilian was seriously wounded. A few hours later and 30 miles away, the suspect briefly pulled to the side of the road and Placer County Homicide Detective Michael Davis, Jr., 42, and Deputy Jeff Davis began an approach. The suspect shot both of them, killing Michael Davis and wounding Jeff Davis. The suspect who killed both Oliver and Davis was subsequently arrested after an extensive manhunt. Investigation revealed he had twice been formally deported and was in the country illegally. The death of Michael Davis occurred 26 years to the day after his father, for whom he was named, died in a helicopter crash during a narcotics operation while working for the Riverside County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Department.
On Oct. 25, Butler County (Ala.) Deputy John Timothy Williamson, 48, died of a heart attack he sustained after a struggle with a resisting suspect. He thought he had strained a muscle during the fight and did not seek immediate medical treatment. After responding to several calls for service, the pain became more severe and he drove himself to a hospital. He suffered another heart attack while being transported to a second hospital and died.
On Oct. 26, Rio Rancho (N.M.) Police Officer Anthony Haase, 24, died as the result of a single vehicle crash while responding to a reported domestic violence incident at approximately 3 am. His vehicle went off the roadway and into a ditch. He had been sworn in only five months prior to the crash.
Oct. 26 also claimed the life of Summerville (S.C.) Police Officer Robert Blajszczak, 40, who died as the result of a heart attack suffered six days prior while conducting a traffic stop. A passing officer saw that he was in distress and radioed for assistance. He was transported to a hospital where he subsequently died.
On Oct. 27, a heart attack took the life of Dothan (Ala.) Police Sergeant Jeffrey Garrett, 47, after a two mile training run with other officers. The run had been completed and the officers were talking when Garrett suddenly collapsed. The other officers administered CPR and he was transported to a hospital but subsequently died.
During the early morning hours of Oct. 28, Ventura County (Calif.) Deputy Sheriff Eugene Kostiuchenko, 41, died after being struck by a vehicle while on an enforcement stop. Two other deputies were almost hit by the same car which was being operated by a driver under the influence of alcohol. The driver fled the scene but was subsequently arrested when he crashed his car.
On October 29th, Pomona (Calif.) Police Officer Shaun Diamond, 45, died as the result of injuries suffered on the previous day during the service of an arrest warrant by a regional SWAT team. Officer Diamond was the lead officer and as the team breached the storm door, a subject inside opened the main door and fired a shotgun, striking Diamond in the back of the head. Officers pulled him to safety and he was transported but later died.
Also on Oct. 29, Harris County (Tex.) Deputy Sheriff Jesse Valdez, III, 32, was killed when his patrol car was struck head-on in an intersection while on his way to a welfare check. The other vehicle was an SUV operated by a driver on parole who was under the influence of narcotics. The vehicle operated by Valdez was pushed into a ditch and he was trapped inside, requiring extrication by rescue crews. He was transported but subsequently passed away.
On Oct. 31, shortly after midnight, Chandler (Ariz.) Police Officer David Payne, 37, was sitting on his police motorcycle stopped at a red light when he was struck from behind by a vehicle operated by an intoxicated driver. The impact catapulted the police motorcycle across the intersection. The driver of the vehicle fled the scene but later stopped and was taken into custody. He had a suspended license and a history of driving under the influence. Officers found an 11 month old child inside the suspect’s car. The child was not injured. The intersection where Officer Payne was struck and killed was the same intersection where Chandler Police Officer Robert Nielsen died in an on-duty crash in 2002.
Words are always inadequate when trying to express the devastation caused by a line-of-duty death. The sudden loss of a loved one wreaks havoc on families and departments—lives are forever changed. On behalf of everyone at Law Officer, I want to express the deepest condolences to those who have lost an officer during this past month.
Law Officer’s Below 100 initiative is working very hard to address those LODD areas that are primarily under an officer’s control. We continue to lose officers in situations that are absolutely preventable and we can change that. For more information on Below 100, go here.
Special thanks to our great partners at the Officer Down Memorial Page for their assistance with these summaries. For more information on ODMP and to sign up for alert notification when an LODD occurs, gohere.