A South Salt Lake police officer died Saturday evening after he was struck by a car during a confrontation between police and two burglary suspects.
Officer David Romrell, 31, had been with the department about 11 months, South Salt Lake Police Chief Jack Carruth said at a news conference early Sunday morning. The officer, a Marine veteran who had served several tours, leaves behind a wife and a 4-month-old child.
“As much as we prepare or know the risk of this job, we’re not prepared for this,” Carruth told FOX 13. “It’s taken us all by surprise. It’s been very, very painful.”
The driver of the vehicle that struck Romrell on Saturday evening was killed by police gunfire. He was identified Sunday afternoon as Felix Anthony Calata, a 31-year-old from West Valley City.
Police officials say Romrell and other officers arrived at a business complex at 3575 S. West Temple about 5:30 p.m. Saturday after receiving a report of a burglary.
When officers tried to stop Calata and another man, the two drove away in a car. As they were fleeing, Calata accelerated the vehicle and struck Romrell, according to police.
Police then began firing toward the vehicle, and Calata was struck by bullets. He died at the scene.
A second suspect ran away but was later arrested nearby after being tracked by police dogs. That person was not publicly identified Sunday.
Romrell was taken to a local hospital in critical condition and received emergency surgery. But Carruth said the officer was “unable to recover from his injuries” and died at the hospital at about 10 p.m.
Carruth described Romrell as a humble, soft-spoken officer who was “tactically sound,” according to FOX 13.
“He did everything right,” the chief said, “and was targeted by this vehicle.”
It’s not clear how many officers fired their weapons nor how many bullets struck Calata. An outside agency will now investigate, per protocol in cases when an officer uses deadly force.
“Our focus last night and this morning has been on David Romrell’s family and our South Salt Lake family who are grieving,” the chief said.
Romrell is the first South Salt Lake police officer to die in the line of duty.
On Sunday, Utah police agencies and other officials, including Gov. Gary Herbert, offered their condolences for the officer’s death.
“He was exemplary in every way, and I feel humbled by the service he gave his country as a Marine, as well as the service he gave our communities here in Utah,” Herbert said in a statement. “We mourn with and for Officer Romrell’s dear family, and we pray that they may find peace in the midst of this heartbreak.”
This isn’t the first time Calata has been involved in a police chase that turned deadly. The Utah Highway Patrol investigated a car crash in March after Calata fled from police and crashed into another car on Bangerter Highway and California Avenue.
Both Calata and a female passenger in his vehicle were ejected from a Jeep Grand Cherokee that was believed to have been stolen, according to a UHP search warrant affidavit. The passenger, 44-year-old Danyelle Jennings, died at the scene of the crash. Calata was taken to a local hospital with serious injuries.
Before the crash, Calata had fled from a Utah Department of Natural Resources officer who had stopped to ask Calata what he was doing parked on the side of the road near 2100 South picking up tires that were on the side of the road, according to the affidavit.
The DNR officer spotted a pipe in the vehicle, according to the affidavit, and asked Calata for his identification. Calata told the officer he did not have his ID, and began to hand the pipe to the officer before he shifted the Grand Cherokee into drive and drove away quickly. The DNR officer followed but lost sight of the vehicle until he saw “lots of smoke and dust” at the intersection of the crash.
No charges had been filed against Calata in connection to this car crash, according to a search of Utah court records.
Calata had a limited criminal history in Utah, mostly drug- and alcohol-related offenses over the past decade. His latest offense was in 2015, when someone called police after witnessing Calata punching a woman while the two were sitting in a car in West Jordan. The officer who responded found methamphetamine in the car, according to charging documents.
His most serious conviction was in 2005, when he was 18 years old. He pleaded guilty then to a third-degree felony, attempting to receive or transfer a stolen vehicle, and was sentenced to jail and probation.
Editor’s note: The Tribune and FOX 13 are news-gathering partners.