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June 24, 2004

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FORT PIERCE

Officer Down: K-9 Vasko - [FORT PIERCE , ]


By Shawna Gallagher Vega staff writer
June 26, 2004

FORT PIERCE — Vasko, a 5-year-old German shepherd, became the first
fatality in the history of the St. Lucie County K-9 unit after being
shot Friday while pursuing suspects in a kidnapping and carjacking.

Barrington Levy, 18, of the 1800 block of North Lake Drive, shot
Vasko, a three-year veteran of the sheriff's office, while trying to
elude authorities in northwest Fort Pierce late Thursday, a sheriff's
report states.

Vasko died around 12:15 p.m. after undergoing surgery for treatment
of gunshot wounds through his nose, near his trachea and in his
mouth.

It was Vasko's 91st apprehension.

A memorial service for Vasko is scheduled at the St. Lucie County
Civic Center on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.

"He fulfilled his duties to the fullest," Sheriff Ken Mascara said at
a press conference Friday afternoon. "We've already shrouded our
badges. He's just like one of our own."

Vasko chased Levy and Clemon Sneed, 19, of the 2500 block of Seneca
Avenue, after a report of gunfire in the area of Anderson Avenue and
Essex Drive.

Officers responded to a call in the area at about 11:40 p.m.
Thursday. The shots reportedly came from a blue Cadillac with a white
vinyl top.

Deputy Tad Leroy saw the vehicle traveling south on Essex Drive and
the driver quickly turned to elude him, reports state. The car
stopped on Tropic Boulevard, and Leroy saw two men run from the car.

Master Deputy Michael Colton, a 16-year veteran of the force, and K-9
Vasko arrived on the scene. When Vasko tried to apprehend Levy, the
man fired at the dog and Colton with a .22-caliber revolver, reports
state.

Colton returned fire, reportedly hitting Levy in the leg several
times.

When Leroy approached the Cadillac, he heard a banging sound coming
from the trunk. Ramon Gandy was found inside and told deputies he had
been kidnapped at gunpoint by two men, reports state.

Levy was arrested and airlifted to an Orlando hospital, where he was
in serious but stable condition Friday, St. Lucie County Fire
District Capt. Nate Spera said.

Sneed was charged with carjacking with a firearm and kidnapping with
a firearm, according to reports. Levy was charged with attempted
murder of a law enforcement officer, carjacking with a firearm,
kidnapping with a firearm and killing a police dog.

Colton, 37, has been placed on administrative leave pending a review
of the shooting, standard procedure when a deputy discharges his
weapon.

"Obviously, Mike (Colton) and his family are very distraught," Sgt.
Ed Rinaldo said. "When you lose a family member, it's not a good
thing and it's very hard and very emotional.

"It's a very close-knit relationship with the dog," Rinaldo added,
noting that police dogs live with their handlers and sometimes go on
family vacations.

Stuart police Officer Eric Schaubel agreed.

Schaubel — who has trained, worked and lived with a dog named Canto
for nearly six years — said K-9 officers quickly become part of the
family.

"Yes, he's a K-9. He's taken down people that weigh 300 pounds. We've
been in I don't know how many fights, but for him it's a job,"
Schaubel said. "When he's home, it's like a light switch. He can turn
it off. He's extremely social. No one can believe he's a K-9."

Around the house, the SWAT-certified Canto instinctively checks
Schaubel's children's bedrooms when they get home, will nudge the
kids apart when they're fighting and has to be brought indoors when
anyone gets in the pool because he's overly protective.

Schaubel praised Vasko for doing a good job.

"He did his job; he held the bite while getting shot," Schaubel said.

Staff writer Jim Turner contributed to this report.

- shawna.vega@scripps.com



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