Ore. officer in fatal crash going to work


Kathleen Gorman
The Oregonian Staff

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland police Officer Mark Zylawy — affectionately known as "Z Man" and popular even among the crooks he met patrolling Northeast Portland — died early Sunday when he was struck on Interstate 5.

Zylawy, 40, of Ridgefield, Wash., was on his way to work about 6:30 a.m. when he began to have car trouble. He pulled to the right shoulder and was outside his car with the hood up when he was hit by a tractor-trailer rig driven by Lawrence Stieben, 55, of Milwaukie.

The right lane of southbound I-5 was blocked for about three hours while officers investigated. No other details about the accident were available, including whether Zylawy was driving a patrol car or his own vehicle.

News spread quickly through the Portland Police Bureau, where Zylawy had worked for 17 years, most of that time in inner North and Northeast Portland. Fellow officers described the married father of four as a top-notch officer who had perfected the art of community policing.

While being photographed last year for a story about drug-free zones, Zylawy told The Oregonian that if someone in the neighborhoods he patrolled had been arrested, chances were good that he'd been the one to do it.

"He was a great one," said Detective Pete Simpson, a member of a gang-enforcement team based at the Northeast Precinct.

"You're not going to hear a bad word about Mark Zylawy from anybody — not officers, not citizens, not even crooks," he added.

Zylawy's beat took him up and down "The Avenue" — Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard — and into neighborhoods where gangs move in and out, drugs come and go and some longtime residents have found themselves edged out by wealthier newcomers.

"He was one of those officers that people weren't afraid to talk to," said Willie Brown, executive director of the Black Citizens Coalition of Portland Neighborhoods.

"He was very concerned about our young folks and how drugs were influencing their lives," Brown said. "He was one of the champions."

Zylawy recently was assigned to a street-level neighborhood drug unit out of downtown's Central Precinct.

If you needed to find a suspect, you called Zylawy, said Detective Jeff Bender. The Z Man not only knew everyone, he had a memory like a computer's, even memorizing criminals' birth dates, Bender said.

"He's just one of those guys — he's bigger than a precinct," he said.

Plans for a memorial service were just beginning to be put together Sunday.

"I cannot think of the words to sum up Mark's life," Chief Rosie Sizer said in a statement. "Mark earned the respect of everyone by his hard work, dedication and integrity. Mark loved being a police officer and gave more than we will ever be able to give back."

Zylawy's death came 10 years to the day after that of Officer Colleen Waibel, who was shot to death Jan. 27, 1998, during a raid at a suspected drug house in Southeast Portland.

"None of us can believe that this has happened," said Detective Robert King, president of the police union. "We all deeply love him."

Copyright 2008 The Oregonian

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