The two situations were remarkably similar: Two Utah police officers attempt to help stranded motorists, only to be shot to death inside their patrol cars.
In less than six months, Utah County sheriff’s Sgt. Cory Wride — who died Thursday — and Draper police Sgt. Derek Johnson — who was shot on Sept. 1 — were both dead after their attempts to help ended in violence. Neither officer had a chance to fire his own weapon.
But law enforcement officials said the incident won’t make them fearful. They’ll still help people on the side of the road, but they’ll be more vigilant.
“You pull up on things like that to help people,” Utah Fraternal Order of Police President Brent Jex said Friday. “And now, unfortunately, to pull up to help these people, we have to look at is as a potential threat … We just hope there’s a little understanding as we take on this new dimension.”
On Thursday, Wride, a 19-year veteran, was in his patrol car running license plate information of a pulled-over pickup truck with flashers blinking on State Road 73 between Eagle Mountain and Cedar Fort. Police believe either Jose Angel Garcia-Jauregui, 27, or a 17-year-old girl in the truck slid open the back window of the pickup cab and began shooting. Wride was struck twice and killed.
In September, Johnson, 32, stopped at 13200 S. Fort Street after noticing Timothy Troy Walker standing outside his Volvo, which had run out of gas and had a flat tire.
When Johnson pulled up near the Volvo to see if he could help, Walker allegedly shot Johnson in the chest.
Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Lawrence Hopper said the cops’ deaths have made other police officers more aware of their surroundings.
“There’s no such thing as a routine stop,” he said. “And that includes public assists. We always need to be vigilant and aware of our surroundings, even if we are helping someone with a flat tire or dead battery.”
Jex said as he looks at the two different deaths, he’s not sure any changes in police policy would prevent the same thing from happening again.
“Derek was a good friend of mine,” Jex said. “I did a lot of soul searching after his death, and it’s one of those things where it was completely tragic in both instances. Sometimes bad things just happen, and it’s outside of our control.”
Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter, who is also president of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, said Friday that having someone with the law enforcement community serving on the state’s parole board may keep violent convicted felons, like accused shooter Garcia-Jauregui, from being on the streets. He also suggested that having a larger number of officers on the street may deter similar situations.
“It’s tough,” he said. “You can’t second-guess. The officer was probably tactically sound, but there’s only so much you can do with one officer. Certainly other resources are helpful, but it would really be a guess on my part to say whether that would make a difference or not.”
Hopper said that while Johnson’s and Wride’s deaths were tragic, he believes they were isolated instances. He doesn’t believe it will prevent troopers or officers from helping someone in need.
“I would hope it doesn’t change our desire to help the public,” he said. “That’s our jobs.”
The law enforcement officials suggest if an officer approaches a citizen on the side of the road, the citizen should keep their hands visible, not make any sudden movements and explain why they are stopped.
“Have a little understanding if the officer is a little apprehensive at first,” Jex said. “It’s going to take a little time to settle back into a state of normalcy.”