Mo. deputy in fatal wreck en route to accident scene

Squad car driven by Deputy Gary McCormack, 32, was hit broadside by truck driven by a volunteer firefighter responding to the same call.

By Jaime Baranyai
Springfield News-Leader

GREENE COUNTY, Mo. Rick McCormack, who always worried when his son was on duty, woke up to his worst fear Saturday.

Greene County Sheriff's Deputy Gary McCormack, 32, of Republic was killed while responding to a reported auto crash.

His squad car was hit broadside by a pickup truck driven by a volunteer firefighter responding to the same call, Missouri Highway Patrol Sgt. Dan Bracker said Saturday at a news conference at the sheriff's department.

He leaves behind a widow, Stephanie, and two children, 5-year-old Grant and 1-year-old Natalie.

"It did not thrill me when he told me he wanted to be a police officer," Rick McCormack of Springfield said Saturday, "but we were always supportive because that's what he loved to do.

"He was a policeman all the way. We hardly saw him because it took up so much of his time."

Gary McCormack died about 4:15 a.m. in the collision with a pickup driven by Joshua Douglas, 25, a volunteer firefighter with the Ebenezer Fire Protection District, Bracker said.

The deputy, who was wearing a seat belt, died instantly from blunt force trauma to the head and chest, said David Brown, an investigator with the Greene County Medical Examiner's office.

With tears in his eyes at the Saturday news conference, Greene County Sheriff Jack Merritt said, "This is the darkest moment in the life of the Greene County Sheriff's Department and the family of Greene County. It's been my prayer that as sheriff I would never have to deal with this."

Douglas was admitted to an intensive care unit at St. John's Hospital in Springfield, according to Ebenezer Fire Chief Leonard Smith. It was unclear whether he was wearing a seat belt.

The Missouri Highway Patrol's preliminary report says the accident occurred on Greene County WW at Farm Road 145, five miles north of Springfield.

McCormack was westbound on WW when he was hit broadside by Douglas' northbound vehicle, Bracker said. The patrol's preliminary report said Douglas failed to yield at a stop sign and pulled into the path of McCormack's vehicle. Bracker said it was too early to assign blame.

McCormack's emergency lights were on at the time of the crash, Bracker said.

No further details were given, and Bracker said the crash investigation could take more than a month to complete.

The accident the two men were responding to was never found. Bracker said officials will continue to investigate the incident.

Remembering Gary

Gary McCormack "was a good family man," his father said. "He worked long hours and took good care of his kids."

Merritt, who was visibly upset at the news conference, said the reality of the situation really sets in when you think about the children.

"You see those children, and it absolutely rips your heart out," he said.

Gary McCormack's mom, Julie Hofsatter of Springfield, said, "His little boy worshipped the ground he walked on." She said father and son spent a lot of time playing together the night before Gary McCormack died.

Merritt relayed a story about Gary McCormack's son knowing his daddy was at work when he went to sleep, but that his daddy would be home in the morning.

"... But Daddy won't be back..." Merritt said, overcome with emotion. "... I'm just overwhelmed ...."

Gary McCormack's father was also distraught.

"What does a father do when they're in a situation like this? Should I be making funeral arrangements? Should I be ordering some kind of flowers?' I don't even know."

He paused, letting out a sigh, and said, "Fathers aren't supposed to bury their children."

Funeral arrangements were not final Saturday evening.

Gary McCormack was a sergeant with the Republic Police Department before joining the sheriff's department, Merritt said. He had been with the Republic Police Department for seven years before becoming a Greene County sheriff's deputy four months ago.

At the news conference, Merritt said McCormack's death affected not only the sheriff's department, but all law enforcement agencies. "We're a brotherhood. When one hurts, we all hurt."

Brown, who was a friend of Gary McCormack, said news of the death also shook him to the core.

"It's a cruel reminder that at any moment your world can change," Brown said. "For every person who dies, it hits home for somebody. This one hit our family this time."

He said Gary McCormack was always the guy with a smile on his face. "He was just such a nice guy. He had a great heart."

Hofsatter said her son "always set out to do things to the best of his ability. He was just awesome."

Merritt spoke about the profound impact Gary McCormack had on the sheriff's department in the short time he was there. "He was a tremendous officer, and he was respected by everyone he came across," Merritt said.

He said Gary McCormack was "giving all he had to help someone else" when he died in the line of duty. "That's who he was."

Rick McCormack said his son's compassion for others is what led him to law enforcement. "He wanted to leave this world a little better than he found it."

Merritt also said McCormack was a fun-loving guy with a great sense of humor. He recalled a recent incident when McCormack was dressed to the hilt, but opened his suit coat to reveal a fake buzzer from a shoplifting alarm at a store. "He was always joking around ... He was a special person."

'Good guy all around'

Rick McCormack shared stories about his son's fascination with magic, saying he had put himself through school by performing magic shows and wrote several books about magic. He created and sold his own magic tricks and even worked as a magician at Silver Dollar City for a time, according to his dad.

Gary McCormack's death is the first time a Greene County deputy has died in the line of duty in 40 years, Merritt said. The last death happened in 1968 when a deputy was shot while responding to a robbery, he said.

Merritt said even in the darkest moments, there are glimpses of light.

"It's amazing to see the family of law enforcement come together," he said. The sheriff also hopes some good can come from this tragedy, perhaps additional training for law enforcement officers. "We don't want Gary's life to be in vain."

Rick McCormack wants people to remember his son as a "a good guy all around. He was gung-ho about his job, but he was real sweet about it. He had a charm about him."

Gary McCormack's sister, Anica Lofton, echoed those sentiments. She said her mind kept going back to the time her brother was there for her during a time she was in the hospital.

"He was just such a good person ... not many people are like that. He will be missed."

Copyright 2007 News-Leader

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