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Slain Draper police officer's life celebrated during funeral
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The last text message slain Draper Sgt. Derek Johnson sent his best friend was brief: "Dispatch is calling you. It's time to go."

On Friday, that friend, fellow officer Sgt. Pat Evans, replied saying, "Well, Derek, heaven's calling you. It's time to go."

Evans, who spent years working with Johnson, made the comment during a funeral service that emphasized Johnson's life was defined by indefatigable love of police work and his exuberant personality.

Johnson, 32, was gunned down Sunday morning when, according to police, he stopped to investigate an oddly-parked car. Police say the car's owner, Timothy Troy Walker, ambushed Johnson then turned the gun on himself and his girlfriend, Traci L. Vaillancourt.

The two-hour service at the Maverik Center — which attracted more than 4,000 attendees — began solemnly Friday morning as bag pipers and a Draper City police color guard wearing white carnations pinned to their chests marched slowly into the arena. Behind them, Johnson's widow, Shante´ Sidwell Johnson, followed a flag-draped casket.

Shante´ wore black and carried the couple's 6-year-old son, Bensen Ray, whom his father had called "little buddy," whose eyes were clenched shut.

In the stands, a salt-and-pepper smattering of white and black uniformed cops from all over the state stood silently at attention, their arms raised in salute.

Sister-in-law Amanda Fralick led the speakers by tearfully reading his obituary, which described Johnson as a decorated officer with a strong sense of humor. He was always up for a challenge, Fralick said, and could light up a room.

"Please make sure you smile for him today because that's what he would want," Fralick said.

Later, Evans elicited smiles — and several bursts of laughter — as he recalled Johnson's progress toward a career in law enforcement. Years ago, the two men roomed together and Johnson would sleep with a police scanner running. When they both landed police jobs, Johnson excelled, though Evans added with a chuckle that his friend also liked to hit him in the back of the head with hard objects.

Evans called Johnson a superhero and the hardest-working man he ever met.

"Derek was one of those officers who has a nose for the job," Evans later said. "He could spot a criminal everywhere. There were times I didn't like working overtime shifts with him, because we'd never go home. He'd keep catching more and more bad guys."

Johnson's father, Randy Johnson, wearing an American flag tie, also drew smiles from the crowd when he read aloud his son's 6th grade autobiography. In the paper, the boy wrote with surprising eloquence and specificity: he wanted to live in a rambler-style home someday, hoped to reside in Wyoming "by the fireworks," and sometimes thought his little brother was annoying. But even at that young age, Johnson knew what kind of career he wanted.

"When I grow up, I would like to be a police officer or a paramedic because I hate to see people rob stores or steal," Randy Johnson read. "When I get older, I would like to lead a peaceful, safe, quiet, beautiful life where no one would harm or hurt my family."

Randy went on to say his son worked an array of police jobs — including SWAT, K9, JCAT and graffiti removal — and always showed people respect.

The officer's younger — and only — sister, Desirae Johnson, also spoke, humorously recalling Johnson's tendency to practice police tactics as a child. As the youngest and the only girl, she said, she got the brunt of it: "He would so lovingly use the pressure points, take you down to the ground and chain you to a dresser or a door," she recalled. "Eventually he'd uncuff you only to give you a huge hug so you would quickly forgive him."

Desirae expressed pride that her brother gave his life for something he believed in.

"I know now Derek that you're our guardian angel, that you were needed somewhere else," she said. "We know you are always with us, watching over us and protecting us. I love you, bud. Fly high with the angels."

The officer's brother, Darin Johnson, asked the crowd to "take a brief moment to take a deep breath and feel my brother's presence. He's here with us, giving us a warm hug."

Darin went on to praise his brother's decision to stop and investigate Walker's car — even though it cost him his life — because he was doing his duty.

"My heart bleeds, but I know you must have been needed somewhere else," he said. "The circle of life is one of the only things that is truly reliable in this life. Your circle was just smaller."

Between speakers the arena went completely silent, the loudest sounds coming from the hissing air conditioner and the cooing of an infant high in the stands.

Midway through the service, Draper Mayor Darrell Smith described a training exercise in which Johnson — who was then a member of the police dog unit — was demonstrating how attack dogs worked to take down a suspect. Dressed in padded clothing, Johnson allowed a dog to maul and attack him, but when it was over seemed to be enjoying himself.

"You could just look at him and tell he was saying, 'Man that was fun,' " Smith said. "There was no fear in him."

Draper Police Chief Bryan Roberts described Johnson as a tireless worker.

"This guy that can squeeze 48 hours into a 24-hour period, he was go, go, go, go, go," Roberts said.

Other speakers Friday included Gov. Gary Herbert, who called Johnson an example worth emulating, and LDS Church Quorum of the Seventies Elder Mervyn B. Arnold, who noted that Johnson would go into any home, rich or poor, and act "with dignity and with sweetness."

After the service, the thousands of officers in attendance streamed out to the parking lot and formed two long columns leading to a hearse. Then the bag pipers and color guard emerged, again followed by the coffin and Johnson's widow, Shante´. The officers lining the street saluted. Shante´ glanced down, squinting in the sunlight and supported by Evans.

Darin Johnson, the fallen officer's brother, led the pall bearers. After the coffin was loaded into the hearse, dozens of police motorcycles roared to life, leading a motorcade procession of hundreds of police cars and firetrucks to the south end of the valley through the city of Draper before arriving at the burial site in Sandy.

Supporters lined the roads, and flags whipped in the breeze.

"It was heart-rending to pull into Draper and have all those people standing on the sides," Randy Johnson said.

At the cemetery, Evans escorted Shante´ and her son, who was wearing his father's badge around his neck.

Officers conducted a flag folding and presentation ceremony for Johnson's wife, son, mother and mother-in-law. A gun salute and the playing of Taps were followed by the traditional bagpipe performance of "Amazing Grace."

Then a dispatch radio sounded over a speaker, with a dispatcher repeating Johnson's name — his "final watch call."

Officers, family and friends wept openly as the dispatcher continued: "We thank you for your dedication, loyalty and service. You made the people you served your family."

Walker and Vaillancourt remained hospitalized Friday. Police questioned Vaillancourt on Thursday but have not released details about the conversation. No arrests have been made in the case.

all.justice@sltrib.com

The officer's sister says: "I love you, bud. Fly high with the angels."
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