Last week on Monday January 19, 2009 Deputy Dominic Smith was killed during a traffic stop in Torrance County NM. Deputy Smith is survived by a wife and two children, ages 9 and 11. All those in Law Enforcement offer our heartfelt condolences to his family and his brothers and sister deputies in Torrance County.
It is like a family member has died whenever I learn of a fellow officer who gives his or her life in performance of their duties. Although in the movies and TV officers usually die by firearm the truth of the matter is that auto accidents are the primary killer of law enforcement. In New Mexico including Deputy Smith there has been 17 officers killed in the line of duty during the last eight years. Out of those 11 were during traffic accidents. Deputy Smith was killed while standing in the roadway taking photographs of a vehicle which was stopped during a traffic stop and later found to contain drugs.
This is a good reminder to all to be extra careful when you see those flashing lights ahead. Everyone should slow down and pull into the outside lane or the lane furthest from the side of the road where the police cars are parked. Drivers often also get fixated on seeing what is happening rather than being mindful of persons or vehicles in the roadway. The flashing police lights are good in that they warn drivers of a accident or traffic stop ahead however, they can also conceal pedestrians and can distract drivers from paying attention to anything else.
In the case of Deputy Smith it appears that the vehicle that struck him came from a blind curve and possibly did not have time to react or see the police lights. This is a rare case but one which officers need to try and recognize and set up warning vehicles ahead of the accident or traffic stop where they are visible. I have often told my staff that if the vehicle stops in an unsafe place use the P.A. system and have them pull forward to a driveway or a spot which is safer. Both the police and the public need to work together to prevent these types of deaths or severe injuries which occur at accident scenes and traffic stops.
Sometimes sentences like the one I am about to type are cliche' however, I think it still needs to be said. The best tribute we can give to Deputy Smith is to use this as a training tool to help ensure it does not happen to anyone else.
I will end this blog with the way I started it, my heartfelt condolences go out to Deputy Dominic Smiths family and the deputies and Sheriff who worked with him. God Bless you and support you as you grieve.