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Salt Lake County remembers 15 fallen officers

Published May 10, 2012 7:35 am

With Midvale joining UPD, names of two who died in 1912 now part of memorial.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

South Salt Lake • Two American flags were added Wednesday to existing flags during a memorial service honoring Salt Lake County's fallen officers.

The additional flags represent two Midvale police officers who died while on duty in 1912. The Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office took over law enforcement in Midvale last July.

More than 100 people gathered before the stone monument — now engraved with the names of 15 fallen officers — located east of the Unified Police Department, at 3365 S. 900 West.

Family members and officers with the Salt Lake County Sheriff's office and Unified Police Department meet annually to honor those who gave their lives over the past 162 years.

Sheriff Jim Winder told those in attendance how fleeting life can be working in law enforcement.

"The flags behind us represent not only officers … but families and generations affected," Winder said as he looked back at the red, white and blue waving behind him in the wind.

Jean Wawrzyniak, widow of fallen officer Deputy Melvin Colebrook, who was killed in 1973, has attended the annual memorials since 1991, but said it never gets any easier.

"You never forget," Wawrzyniak said after the service. "Years, they ease the pain, but they don't [help you] forget."

She said the memorial is a wonderful thing, because it gives many generations of family a way to remember.

"It makes you swell with pride that [police] are doing this for those that gave their life," Wawrzyniak said of the memorial.

Wawrzyniak recalled that the night he was killed, her husband — the father of three — had phoned to say his shift was ending in five minutes. But then Colebrook and his partner were sent to a domestic dispute in an affluent neighborhood near the mouth of Parleys Canyon.

When the deputies arrived, the suspect's wife asked them to prevent her husband from taking their 14-month-old daughter. The man refused to put the child down and placed his hand near her throat in what was deemed a threatening manner.

During a subsequent fight with the officers, the suspect grabbed Colebrook's partner's gun and shot Colebrook in the head, Wawrzyniak said Wednesday after the service.

The man was charged with first-degree murder, but at trial the judge instructed the jury there was insufficient evidence to convict on first-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter, according to End of Watch: Utah's Murdered Police Officers. The judge also said the officers had no right to arrest the man in his own home, and that the defendant had a right to defend himself if he felt threatened by death or bodily harm,

The jury deliberated just over an hour before finding the defendant, a bank executive, innocent of killing Colebrook.

During the memorial Winder added that the sheriff's office "has not seen a death since 1994, that is something to celebrate."

While attending a Utah State fallen officer memorial service the previous week, Winder said he wept as he looked at the faces of the family of officer Jared Francom, who was killed during a Jan. 4 drug raid in Ogden.

He said the memorial should be a reminder that officers should strive to do everything possible to ensure that fellow officers return to their families every night.

After Winder spoke, he placed a wreath near the memorial newly etched with the names of the two Midvale officers.

Taps was played and a 21-gun salute ended as the sound of "Amazing Grace" played by a bagpipe player faded into the distance.

Previously, Midvale City had no annual memorial service for its fallen officers, but from now it will.

"It was great to see them honored like this," said Midvale precinct Chief Tony Mason.

Since the merging of police and fire agencies, the consolidation has saved the city $2 million, Mason said.

cimaron@sltrib.com

Twitter: @CimCity