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Officer Killed, One Hurt When Vehicles Collide During Chase

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July 31, 2004

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Officer Killed, One Hurt When Vehicles Collide During Chase

Officer Down: Nathan Laurie - [River Oaks, Texas]

River Oaks lawmen were chasing pickup when accident occurred.

By Jeff Mosier, The Dallas Morning News

RIVER OAKS, Texas -- A police officer was killed Thursday morning and one was injured when their department vehicles collided while chasing a traffic violator.

Officer Nathan Laurie, 43, who had been with the River Oaks Police Department for about two years, was pronounced dead at Harris Methodist Fort Worth Hospital shortly after the 2:28 a.m. crash.

Officer Jesse Rios, who was driving the other police sport utility vehicle, was treated early Thursday at Harris Methodist and released. The driver of the stolen pickup that the officers were chasing has not been found.

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River Oaks Mayor Herman Earwood said Officer Laurie is believed to be the first police officer to die in the line of duty in the close-knit suburb northwest of downtown Fort Worth.

"This is like losing a member of your family," he said. "You can't replace him."

Officer Laurie is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter. Services were pending.

Police Chief Daniel Chisholm asked the Tarrant County Sheriff's Department to investigate the accident. Mike Simonds, chief deputy for the Sheriff's Department, said he had few details about the accident and was still looking into the case.

Chief Chisholm said the accident occurred after what appeared to be a routine traffic stop. Shortly before 2:30 a.m., Officer Laurie spotted a pickup with no license plates driving south on Yale Street. A minute after he told dispatchers that he was stopping the truck, Officer Laurie radioed that the pickup had bumped his police SUV.

Officer Rios, 27, was asked to help in the traffic stop. He was driving west on Tulane Avenue toward Yale.

A resident who saw the accident said the two police vehicles entered the intersection at the same moment with a violent crash. The vehicles came to rest against separate trees in a front yard on Yale. Officer Laurie's SUV had turned on its side.

'We need help!'

Jason Reason, who had stepped onto his porch to smoke a cigarette, said he saw the truck speeding through the residential neighborhood. He estimated that the pickup was traveling at least 85 mph in the 30 mph zone, and he said the police SUV driven by Officer Laurie was close behind. He couldn't tell how fast Officer Rios was driving.

After the collision, Officer Rios climbed out of his vehicle, calling: "Nathan! Nathan! We need help!" Mr. Reason said.

Chief Chisholm, who has been with the department for nearly 20 years, said it was too early to say whether Officer Laurie was involved in a high-speed chase. He said that the officer turned on his emergency lights two blocks away from the accident. It's doubtful, he said, that the SUV could have built up much speed.

Mr. Earwood, the mayor, said that when the subject of high-speed police chases came up at a City Council meeting, he said he told the audience that River Oaks police didn't engage in those types of chases. He said he'll wait for the investigation to be completed before making suggestions about policy changes.

"Without details, we don't know how to prevent this from happening again," he said.

The truck that started the chase was found shortly after 5 a.m. at a River Oaks apartment complex. The truck was stolen overnight from a car dealership in nearby Sansom Park. Chief Simonds said his investigators are trying to determine whether the driver knew someone at that complex.

As the investigation continued Thursday, police officers and residents grieved.

Officer Laurie retired from the military several years ago and decided he wanted to start a second career in law enforcement. He worked as a jailer for the Sheriff's Department before attending a police academy.

The police chief said he was a model officer, an imposing figure with a good heart.

"He could be as hard as he needed to be, but he could be as soft as a teddy bear the next minute," Chief Chisholm said.

Mr. Earwood said that anyone who saw Officer Laurie would remember him immediately. He was tall, physically fit and looked like he just walked out of a Marine Corps recruitment poster. He was a straight-arrow lawman who most of all wanted to get criminals off the streets, especially in cases involving domestic violence.

"He wanted to be in on those cases," Mr. Earwood said. "He's not going to allow one person to beat up another."

At the North Central Texas Council of Governments Regional Police Academy, he was known as a cadet who didn't understand why officers needed ethics courses. If the other cadets needed training to be ethical, they shouldn't be there, he explained to his instructors.

Karyn McCoy, training coordinator at the academy in Arlington, said Officer Laurie was the most honest person anyone was likely to meet.

"He touched our hearts," she said. "We are not going to recover quickly."

'A crushing blow'

Ms. McCoy said that Officer Laurie continued to return to the academy to evaluate cadets and participate in training exercises. Occasionally, he would get paid for the work, but most of the time, he volunteered his time. He wanted to make sure the new officers were prepared for the job that lay ahead, Ms. McCoy said.

Rob Morrison, a 42-year resident of River Oaks, said Officer Laurie's death is cause for mourning throughout this city.

"It's a crushing blow," he said.

Instead of keeping his sorrow inside, Mr. Morrison, who lives a few blocks from the crash site, painted a sign in his front yard and decorated it with artificial flowers. It read, "Nathan, Godspeed to you sir."

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