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'Sweetheart of a Man' Killed in Crash; Deputy's Cruiser Hit By Semi-Truck

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August 04, 2004

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'Sweetheart of a Man' Killed in Crash; Deputy's Cruiser Hit By Semi-Truck

Officer Down: Earl Rounds - [Greeley, Colorado]

In a warm, quiet conference room in the back corridors of the Weld County Sheriff's Office, 30 of William "Earl" Rounds' friends passed a candle flame to each other Wednesday night, silently saying a prayer, holding a vigil for their comrade.

Rounds, 66, of Greeley, a disabled sheriff's deputy who was the sole support of his disabled wife and 11-year-old adopted daughter, was killed Wednesday morning when a semitrailer crashed into his car on U.S. 85, north of Greeley.

He died instantly.

In 1979, Rounds began working in the Weld County Jail in the master control area, where the jail areas are monitored on video screens. He worked there for 10 years and then, in 2001, he began working part time as a civil deputy, serving civil court orders for the Weld County Sheriff's Office.

Rounds was working at the time of the accident, driving a sheriff's office car, when the driver of the semi turned across U.S. 85 and crashed through the driver's door of Rounds' car.

The accident occurred at 11:45 a.m. at the intersection of the 11th Avenue exit off of U.S. 85. That exit off of U.S. 85 was developed a few years ago to eliminate the dangerous intersection of U.S. 85 and O Street. Some deputies at the scene Wednesday said the new intersection is just as dangerous as the intersection it replaced.

Shortly after the accident, several law officers and friends of Rounds gathered. "What is going on with Weld County?" questioned Sheriff's supervisor Bill Spalding. "This is number 63 in Weld County, and this time it's one of our own."

The 63rd traffic death in the county pushes the toll far ahead of last year, when the total was 33 on this date in 2003. With four months left in the year, Weld County already has surpassed last year's total.

"Earl was a sweetheart of a man," Spalding said of his friend. "We would joke with each other every day. Now I've got an entire office staff in tears."

The driver of the semi truck, Daniel Ray Johnson, 31, of Pierce was treated at North Colorado Medical Center and released. Colorado State troopers said he will likely receive a ticket for failure to yield the right-of-way and careless driving resulting in death. No alcohol or drugs were involved in the accident. Johnson was driving a truck for Bucklen Enterprises of Greeley.

The truck was northbound on U.S. 85 and turned left across the intersection, hitting the southbound sheriff's car. The car was pushed across the intersection, coming to rest against a stop sign. Rounds' body was trapped in the wreckage, and the car had to be cut apart to get him out.

Sheriff John Cooke was at the scene soon after the accident and called one of the sheriff's office chaplains. They went to Rounds' home to tell his wife of her husband's death.

Southbound traffic on U.S. 85 was detoured for more than an hour as the wreckers came to tow away the vehicles, and the Weld County coroner came to take custody of the body. An autopsy to determine the exact cause of death will be performed today.

At the Wednesday night vigil, a collection of field and jail deputies, clerks and high-ranking officers told stories of Rounds, his jokes, his personality. Led by sheriff's chaplain Arnie Strayer, the group prayed for Rounds' wife and daughter.

"He was a hard worker and a good man," Cooke said. "Something like this hurts -- it's very personal. We're a family here. It's a cliche, but it's true."

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