As you remember these fallen officers, take comfort in recalling that they dedicated their lives to the same principles of honor, duty and courage that brought you to the badge. Such a life is truly rich. Take strength in knowing that when an officer falls, our resolve to serve those in need is not diminished. Our dedication to protecting those in danger is not weakened. Our commitment to remembering those with whom we shared the badge does not fade.
Godspeed, brothers and sisters. You fought the good fight. Now rest in peace…
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.
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