05/03/2006

San Francisco officer dies on canine training run

Copyright 2006 The Chronicle Publishing Co.
All Rights Reserved

Head of the unit was on a half-mile tracking exercise
 
By JAXON VAN DERBEKEN
The San Francisco Chronicle

See Officer Tsujimoto's Officer Down page

SAN FRANCISCO — A 15-year San Francisco police veteran who headed the department's canine unit died, apparently of a heart attack, during a training exercise Monday night on Treasure Island, department officials said Tuesday.

Darryl Tsujimoto, 41, of Alamo had just run a half a mile with a department dog, leading the exercise to track a suspect, when he collapsed at 9 p.m., said acting Capt. Dan McDonagh of the tactical unit.

"Just at the same point the dog located the pretend bad guy, he went down," McDonagh said. "His fellow officers didn't know if this was part of the training. His partner thought he was just adding something to the scenario. She questioned him for a second, and he just wasn't responsive."

Tsujimoto was taken to San Francisco General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

McDonagh said Tsujimoto was in good shape and often ran alongside the dogs he handled — Loki, a German shepherd, and Barak, a Belgian Malinois. Both were dogs he had owned, trained and donated to the department.

"There was no indication at all that anything was going to happen," McDonagh said. "He was 41, a young man. It is devastating."

Under Tsujimoto's leadership, the canine unit won gold medals in several national competitions. Tsujimoto had also served in the Mission, Taraval, Park and Tenderloin Task Force stations, and in the narcotics and vice units.

"He was dedicated to dogs," McDonagh said. "He loved animals. It was his passion."

Police Chief Heather Fong said Tsujimoto's efforts made the canine unit a "showpiece for the department."

"His passing has immeasurably saddened all of us," she said.

"He was a very talented officer, with a wealth of experience and knowledge," McDonagh said. "He would go out of his way to help train people."

Davin Cole, a 13-year-veteran who is part of the canine unit, said Tsujimoto had died fulfilling his dream of working with dogs and supervising nine other officers in the canine unit.

"He loved what he did. He wouldn't have it any other way," Cole said.

Tsujimoto was engaged to be married, Cole said. He had no children.

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