It is only the middle of June and it is with great sadness that I need to add two more names to the Honor Roll for Fallen Officers on my sidebar with the deaths of two more law enforcement officers in recent days. In addition to these two fine men, I am also going to pay tribute in this post to a volunteer firefighter who was also killed in the line of duty. All three men died needless and tragic deaths helping to protect and serve their respective communities.
Traffic control for a fire near Fort Lejeune, North Carolina outside of Jacksonville turned tragic for a sheriff’s deputy and a volunteer firefighter during the early morning hours of Saturday, June 14th, when they were both struck and killed by a tractor trailer whose driver sped carelessly into an area with low visibility. Both men were directing traffic and assisting with two accidents on the road when a tractor-trailer struck them.
Deputy Sheriff Steve Boehm, a 10-year veteran of the Onslow County Sheriff’s Department, and Firefighter Gene Thomas, a member of the Verona Volunteer Fire Department for 33 years, both died instantly when the truck failed to slow down. A second deputy received minor injuries from the same accident and was released after treatment at a local hospital.
The tragedy has left hundreds of people in Onslow County numb and saddened as they mourn two fallen heroes. Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown said that they will never be forgotten. Deputy Boehm worked as a School Resource Officer at White Oak High School and had started his first day on summer assignment on Saturday. Sheriff Brown described Deputy Boehm as quiet and reserved, “SRO was more than a job to him, he was a mentor for the school - it was a project for him, not a duty, and he was committed to that job," Brown said. "We will miss him and his family is going to miss him."
In addition to his duties with the Sheriff’s Department, Deputy Boehm, age 36, was also the junior varsity football coach for White Oak High School. An 8-year veteran of the United States Army, he leaves behind his wife, one son, and three daughters as well as one brother and a department and community stricken with grief.
Firefighter Gene Thomas, age 51, had been a firefighter for over 30 years “something he was born to do,” according to Verona Fire Department Captain Kevin Davis. “He has grown up in the fire service," Davis said. "His father was a firefighter, his two brothers are firefighters ... they enjoyed careers as volunteer firefighters and it takes a special breed to do that. He enjoyed volunteering and he enjoyed doing the work," stated Davis. "He was a (Department of Transportation) worker, he enjoyed doing that work and he enjoyed volunteering. He lives right across the street from the department and he was always the first one in the building.”
Thomas is survived by his wife and daughter as well as his mother and two brothers in addition to a department that is shocked over the loss of a member of their “family”.
On the other side of the country, members of the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department are also mourning the loss of one of their own. Deputy Sheriff Jose Antonio (Tony) Diaz , a ten year veteran of the department, was shot and killed during a traffic stop in Dunnigan, California, north of Sacramento, on Sunday, June 15th.
The incident began Sunday night after Davis Police issued a bulletin to all local law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for a subject who was reportedly driving under the influence with an infant in his car. Shortly after Deputy Diaz spotted the suspect, a high-speed chase ensued that ended when the suspect exited his vehicle and fired several shots at Deputy Diaz. The injured deputy radioed into dispatch that he had been shot with a high-powered rifle that penetrated his Kevlar vest. After other law enforcement units arrived, he was airlifted to Woodland Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 10:51 p.m.
The suspect, a verified gang member, fled the scene on foot leaving behind the infant in his car. He was apprehended following a massive manhunt on Monday morning. He is charged with one count of first degree murder.
In a statement issued Monday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said, "Deputy Tony Diaz was a true hero who sacrificed his life to protect the citizens of his community. The people of California will never forget Tony's selflessness, bravery and tireless dedication to keeping Yolo County safe. Maria and I extend our deepest condolences to Tony's family, friends and fellow officers during this difficult time."
"It's just tragic," Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto said during a news conference. "It hurts your soul." Deputy Diaz, age 37, leaves behind three daughters, ages 2, 4 and 16, from a previous marriage as well as a fiancée and her three daughters to whom he was a father figure.
Rest in peace, gentlemen. Thank you for your service to your country and your communities.