10/13/2003

Wisc. Officer, Wife Die in Crash

Officer Down: Lt. LeRoy J. Copen - [Kenosha, Wisconsin]

Driver being chased by police hit off-duty sheriff's lieutenant's car.

By MARIE ROHDE and MEG JONES, The Journal-Sentinel

Kenosha - A 25-year veteran of the Kenosha County Sheriff's Department and his wife were killed early Sunday when their car was struck by a car being chased by police.

Lt. LeRoy J. Copen, 56, and his wife, Lynn Copen, 55, a victim/witness coordinator for the Kenosha County district attorney's office, died when their car burst into flames after impact, the Sheriff's Department said. The fleeing driver and his passenger, whom officials refused to identify, were thrown from their vehicle and suffered non-critical injuries, Kenosha police said.

Kenosha County District Attorney Robert Jambois called Lynn Copen a tireless advocate for victims' rights.

"It's ironic that this homicide was the result of a domestic dispute," Jambois said. "The (suspect) driver had abducted his girlfriend."

According to Kenosha police:

About 3:24 a.m., an off-duty police officer saw a woman struggling to get out of a car. She was pulled back into the car by the male driver, who then took off from the 3400 block of 75th St. (Highway 50) and drove west. The officer called the incident in to the dispatcher.

An on-duty officer saw the car and, with lights and siren on, tried to stop it. But the driver accelerated and was several blocks ahead of the pursuing officer when he hit the Copens' car, which was stopped at a red light on 75th St. and Green Bay Road, less than two miles from the start of the chase, police said.

The Copens were less than a mile from their home.

"There were no skid marks, no brake lights and the suspect vehicle took no evasive action," according to a statement issued by Kenosha police. "There was an immediate explosion and both cars were engulfed in flames."

The driver of the fleeing car, a 23-year-old Wisconsin man, and his passenger, a 22-year-old Illinois woman, were found on the ground outside their vehicle, police said. He was taken to St. Catherine's Hospital and treated for minor injuries and was being held pending charges expected to be issued today, according to Kenosha police.

The woman was taken to Aurora Hospital with broken ribs and a broken shoulder blade.

The Copens, who did not exit their vehicle, were pronounced dead at the scene.

LeRoy Copen was the administrator for the Kenosha County Detention Center, and also served as logistics coordinator for the Sheriff's Department Tactical Response Team and the liaison for courthouse security. He was former deputy director of emergency services for Kenosha County.

Lynn Copen was the author of "Preparing Children for Court: A Practitioner's Guide" and was widely quoted on the topic.

In 1974, she became a police officer in Tomah, and later worked for the Monroe County Sheriff's Department and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside police, according to the district attorney's office. She was a part-time Kenosha County deputy sheriff until 1981, when she joined the district attorney's office.

"Lynn was a remarkable woman," said Anna Salter, a Madison psychotherapist who was a close friend and colleague. "She was a child prodigy who played the accordion at Carnegie Hall. Some 20 years ago, she was the first woman on her police department and had many stories to tell about that."

Jim Pulera, a neighbor of the Copens, was stunned to learn of the accident. LeRoy Copen had helped him install a satellite dish on Saturday, Pulera said.

"They were awesome people," said Pulera, a former Twin Lakes police officer. "He'd give you the shirt off his back."

It was unclear where the Copens were going at the time of the accident. Jambois said the couple were avid bass fishermen and speculated that they may have been going to a lake.

The couple are survived by Lynn Copen's son, Jason Holter of Salem, according to the Sheriff's Department.


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