February 07, 2007

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National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund Featuring articles from Executive Director Craig Floyd
with National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund

They lost their lives protecting the president

President Bush had spent the night of November 20, 2006, at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii on his way back from a trip to Indonesia and Vietnam. The following morning he was being escorted by a group of Honolulu motorcycle officers to another part of the base to have breakfast with the troops when tragedy struck.

A light rain had caused some of the roads to be slippery. As the presidential motorcade made its way across the base, three of the motorcycles crashed on a slick spot in the roadway. Members of the President's medical team, including an ambulance, responded immediately and the three injured officers were taken to the local hospital. Two of the officers were treated and released with minor injuries, but Officer Steve Favela, 30, was not so fortunate. One of the major arteries in Officer Favela's leg was severed in the crash and he suffered a significant loss of blood. When a plea for blood donations was made, the outpouring of support from Steve's fellow officers and the citizens he served was "tremendous," in the words of his wife, Barbara.


Police Private Leslie William Coffelt
Despite all of the support, though, Officer Favela's injuries were just too severe and he died on November 26. In addition to his wife, the eight-year police veteran is also survived by four young children. "Officer Favela risked his life every day to protect the people of his community," declared President Bush after learning of Steve's death. "In this time of great sadness, we give thanks for his life of service."


A search of the records kept by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund shows that Steve Favela is one of more than a dozen officers who have died while protecting the president, the president's family or, in a few cases, presidential candidates. One of the most famous incidents occurred on November 1, 1950. That afternoon, White House Police Private Leslie William Coffelt was at his security post at the front door of the Blair House, which was then the temporary residence of President and Mrs. Harry S. Truman. President Truman was taking a nap upstairs when two Puerto Rican terrorists approached the Blair House with the intention of killing or kidnapping the President.

A brief, but fierce gun battle ensued. Officer Coffelt was mortally wounded in the shootout, but before he went down, he killed one of the would-be assassins. Two other officers, Donald Birdzell and Joseph Downs were also wounded, but they recovered.


Special Agent Scott E. Deaton
U.S. Secret Service Operative William Craig was the first officer to ever die while protecting the president. On September 3, 1902, he was struck and killed by a trolley car while protecting President Theodore Roosevelt in Lenox, Massachusetts. Before Scott Pavela, the most recent officer to be killed in a presidential protective assignment was U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Scott E. Deaton, who died in an automobile crash while on his way to St. Louis to protect First Lady Hillary Clinton.

 

On July 3, 1922, the town of Marion, Ohio, was preparing for its centennial celebration and was delighted to be welcoming President Warren Harding the next day as part of their centennial celebration. Marion City Police Captain Edward J. Masterson was part of the President's advance team. He had a foot injury, but refused to relinquish his duties. While preparing for the President's arrival, he stepped off the running board of a slowly moving vehicle and his foot gave way causing him to stumble backwards and hit his head on the sidewalk. He died the next day.


Captain Edward J. Masterson

On August 15, 1928, Wausau, Wisconsin, Police Officer Edward Baerwald was performing crowd control duties during a visit by President Calvin Coolidge when a cable broke, throwing Officer Baerwald to the ground and causing a fatal skull fracture. On November 28 of that same year, Virginia State Police Inspector Phillip C. Via was escorting President Coolidge when he crashed his motorcycle. He died from his injuries a little more than a month later. William Flack, a Kearny, New Jersey, police officer was also killed in a 1928 motorcade, this one for presidential candidate, Al Smith. His motorcycle was struck by a vehicle on October 31 and he died the next day.

 


Officer William Flack
Palm Beach County, Florida, Deputy Sheriff Kevin D. Mathews was another officer killed in a motorcycle accident while escorting a presidential candidate. The crash occurred on March 6, 1992, while he was escorting Democratic candidate Paul Tsongas. A limousine pulled into Deputy Mathews' path as he was attempting to block traffic at an intersection. A very emotional Paul Tsongas visited with the family of Deputy Mathews soon after his death. "I want to express my deep sadness over the death of Officer Kevin Mathews," Senator Tsongas said in a statement. "I did not know Kevin, but we are now linked forever. His death at such a young age (35) will be impossible to understand."

 


Deputy Sheriff Kevin D. Mathews
It was around 11:30 a.m. on November 22, 1963, and Dallas Police Officer J. D. Tippit had come home for lunch as he did every day. But he ate quickly, telling his wife he had to get back to work since most of his fellow officers were downtown for President John F. Kennedy's motorcade. After lunch, Officer Tippit started working a beat in a section of town called South Oak Cliff. He was riding in his patrol car when the radio call went out. President Kennedy had been shot and all officers were instructed to move closer to the downtown area to look for the assailant.

It was approximately 1:00 p.m. when Officer Tippit, an 11-year police veteran, stopped his car to question a suspicious young man who fit the assassin's description. After some brief conversation through the passenger side window, Officer Tippit exited his vehicle and approached the suspect. But, before any more questions could be asked, the man pulled out a gun and shot J.D. Tippit four times. The 39-year-old officer died on the way to the hospital. He left behind a wife, Marie, and three young children.


Officer J. D. Tippit
Meanwhile, witnesses saw the suspect run into a local movie theater. They notified police, who surrounded the theater and went in to make the arrest. When police confronted the man, he struck one of the officers in the face, pulled his pistol and attempted to shoot the officer. But, the gun misfired and the man was finally subdued, all the while screaming "police brutality." He was taken to police headquarters and booked for the murder of Officer J. D. Tippit. His name was Lee Harvey Oswald.

 

More recently, U.S. Customs Service Criminal Investigator Manuel Zurita VII was killed in a boating accident in January 1998 while helping protect President Clinton in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Special Agent Zurita, along with two other Customs agents, was seriously injured when their boat hit a coral reef off St. Thomas. The other two agents recovered from their injuries, but Special Agent Zurita died five days later.

 


Investigator Manuel Zurita VII
"This tragedy underscores the dangerous and difficult work performed by our law enforcement bureaus every day," declared Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, when announcing Special Agent Zurita's death. "We owe them a debt of gratitude for keeping our country safe."

About the author

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund was established in 1984 to generate increased public support for the law enforcement profession by permanently recording and appropriately commemorating the service and sacrifice of all federal, state and local law enforcement officers.






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