08/04/2003

Federal Way, Wash. Officer Down

Officer Down: Patrick Maher - [Federal Way , Washington]

Mike Tartaglia wanted to invite his new neighbor over for a barbecue this past weekend. Instead, he laid flowers yesterday at the makeshift memorial in front of the building where the neighbor was shot, the first Federal Way police officer killed in the line of duty since the department was formed almost seven years ago.

"We should respect our officers more because they're willing to commit the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe," said Tartaglia, 36. "He was very dedicated. He really enjoyed it."

Dozens of police officers from Auburn, Bellevue, Des Moines, Seattle and other cities, as well as residents of the community, honored Patrick Maher, 46, yesterday on the lawn in front of the strip mall where he was shot.

They brought lilies, hydrangeas, daisies and roses, and left messages of support for the family of Maher, who joined the Federal Way police force about seven months ago.

Poems about the perils of the police profession were typed on pieces of white paper.

One handwritten note said, "Greater love has no man than he lay down his life for another. Thanks Patrick Maher. You will be honored and remembered."

Julianne Eugley, 36, whose husband is a police officer in Fife, read the notes along with her 15-year-old daughter, Shallae.

"So many people don't understand. Men and women come out every day and put their lives on the line. They're unsung heroes," she said.

"It's hard to have him as a cop. You see what happens," said Shallae, thinking of her father. "I'm just proud he's helping other people."

On Saturday morning, Maher had gone to an AM/PM store and Arco gas station on Pacific Highway South and South 272nd Street to oversee a child-custody exchange, said Federal Way Department of Public Safety spokesman Kurt Schwan.

A woman approached him in the parking lot saying her boyfriend and his brother were brawling.

Maher broke up the scuffle and was able to pin the boyfriend's brother to the ground. Maher let the 28-year-old man get up when he promised not to fight anymore. But instead, the man ran across the street into Kent, past a small strip mall, and then tried to climb a fence enclosing a trash bin, Schwan said.

Somehow the man grabbed Maher's service gun and pointed it at his brother's 22-year-old girlfriend and then at his 24-year-old brother, Schwan said. Maher grabbed the man's hand and as they wrestled for the gun, Maher was shot in the abdomen between his bullet-proof vest and belt, Schwan said.

"Patrick continued to fight after being shot," Schwan said.

Police said they arrested the 28-year-old man with the help of his brother and technicians at the nearby Firestone tire-service shop.

"We heard the shot," said the shop's assistant manager, Jim Owens. "We thought it was a car backfiring, but it sounded weird."

Maher tried to sit up, but a police officer who arrived told him to lie still and added, "Hang in there, Pat," Owens recalled.

Maher died almost six hours later, at 4:15 p.m., at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center.

"These firefighters, policemen and military go out every day to protect us. ... It just kind of hurts," Owens said of Maher's death.

Maher had moved to Federal Way from Honolulu, where he spent seven years as a police officer and received a merit award for helping pull a suicidal person from the railing of a high-rise hotel. He also spent 20 years in the U.S. Coast Guard.

"He was a very caring and very service-oriented man. He would do anything for you," said Schwan, who helped hire Maher. "It's devastating to the department to lose someone you work with."

When Maher moved into his Federal Way home about four months ago, his neighbor felt safer.

"He parked his (patrol) car in front of his house," Tartaglia said.

Maher often chatted with Tartaglia's children, and Tartaglia regularly saw him strolling through the neighborhood with his wife.

"He was just a caring kind of person," he said. "I just knew he was going to be a real good neighbor."

Maher is survived by his wife and children.

A memorial service for Maher is planned for 1 p.m. Thursday at the Christian Faith Center, 21024 24th Ave. S. in SeaTac, according to the Rev. Tim Klerekoper, Federal Way Fire Department chaplain.

The suspect, who is being held at the Kent city jail, served six months in jail in 1998 for a second-degree assault in 1996. He also has been convicted of several minor crimes such as fourth-degree assault and malicious mischief.
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