Pain of police loss still lingers
I've written about too many deaths of too many police officers in the course of my career -- car accidents, shootings, a helicopter crash. All of them are painful, but the loss of in 2000 of Sgt. John D. Platt (left) and Officer Kevin McCarthy will be one I never forget.
They were patrolling a quiet neighborhood in Hamilton in Northeast Baltimore when a pickup truck speeding at 63 mph went through a stop sign and broadsided their cruiser. The impact knocked the bolts from the frame and both officers were killed. The driver was later convicted of two counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Early on the case that many twists and turns. McCarthy's family fought an ugly fight over custody of his 9-year-old daughter that ended with a Baltimore police lieutenent defying a court order to make sure the young girl could attend her father's funeral.
Then we learned that Platt had been an unnamed officer captured in a Baltimore Sun photo three years ealier crying on the hood of a cruiser after his friend, Lt. Owen Sweeney, was shot in the back at a domestic dispute call. Sweeney had fallen into Platt's arms after telling the gunman, "We're here to help you." The photo taken by Andre Chung is at left.
Later, police protested the 10 year sentence (with all but six years suspended) for the suspect, Shane Daniel Weiss of Middle River, the cops protested again when he was sent home on probation after serving a little more than half his sentence.
Last week, near the 9th anniversary of Platt's death, I learned that Weiss had violated the terms of his probation by failing to complete 1,000 hours of community service and was sent back to prison for two more years. I talked with Laurie Platt just hours before she visited the crash site to lay a wreath (at left, in a photo by the Baltimore Sun's Ken Lam). I've written a more complete story on Laurie and her struggles with the courts in today's newspaper.
It's a tough story that never seems to go away. Laurie's children, Rachel and John Jr., were 3 and 4 when their father died and are now young teens. Laurie has gone back to work as a elemenary school teacher and she's trying to move on. But the judicial system keeps pulling her back in. I remember covering the single funeral for both officers; I never thought I'd have to write about them again.
Here's the funeral story I wrote in October 1997 (the photo of the procession was taken by Kim Hairston):
Two Baltimore police officers buried yesterday in a sorrowful pageant were remembered as protectors of a city and mourned as everyday folks who led simple lives devoted to family and community.
Sgt. John D. Platt and Officer Kevin J. McCarthy - killed Saturday when a driver accused of being drunk slammed into their patrol car in Hamilton - became fixtures in Northeast Baltimore and adjacent county neighborhoods."If people didn't know them by name, they knew them by sight," said Deacon Joseph Shultz, who baptized Platt at St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church in Gardenville.
At his home in Hamilton, Platt took on additional household and child-raising responsibilities so his wife could resume her teaching career. Nearby, his partner, McCarthy, raised his 9-year-old daughter as a single father.
"John and Kevin were everything we should be," said Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris, barely able to hold back tears as he addressed the packed funeral service at Lassahn Funeral Home on Belair Road in Overlea.
"When one of us dies, a little of all of us dies," Norris said.
But comforting words from ministers and politicians could not ease the pain. Platt's wife, Laurie, held the couple's 4-year-old son, John Jr., and stood between the two flag-draped caskets to read a letter she wrote to her husband after he died.
"Dear John," it began, "This cannot be real. Our lives have been destroyed. ... Please give me the courage to face the rest of my life ... and raise our children without you."
Her grief was compounded by the way she learned of her husband's death. She was to meet him at a Dunkin' Donuts shop Saturday night, but he didn't show up. When he didn't answer her cell phone call, she drove toward home - and by Platt's crumpled cruiser.
More than 2,000 police officers packed Belair Road outside the funeral home to pay their last respects to the third and fourth city officers to die this year in the line of duty.
Only 300 could fit inside, and even most of them had to watch the service on closed-circuit television in an adjacent room. Outside, a double line of police cars stretched from Taylor Avenue south to Moravia Road, 2 1/2 miles long.
Police officers from up and down the East Coast joined the procession of more than 500 vehicles, the first of which pulled into the Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens cemetery in Timonium before the two hearses pulled out of the funeral home in Overlea, 12 miles away.
At the Charles Street overpass on the Beltway, some people brought cameras to record the grim procession.
Jameson Feelemyer, 23, a Towson University student who wants to become a police officer, said he still wants to pursue a career in law enforcement. "It's something you take into account," he said.
At the funeral, Mayor Martin O'Malley pondered the irony that police work is made up of "people who love life, but who are willing to give their own lives for strangers."
"It is not God's will," the mayor said of the deaths, noting that the suspect in the crash is accused of drunken driving. "It is reckless choices by frail human beings."
The city's chief executive then lowered his voice to a whisper, and spoke to John Jr., his sister, Rachel, 3, and McCarthy's daughter, Jessica, all sitting in the front row.
"John and Kevin, thank you for being friends of the people of this city," O'Malley said to the children. "We will honor your lives by completing their mission."
Platt, 35, a 17-year veteran, grew up in Baltimore and graduated from Patterson High. Though three years from retirement, he was counting the days and planned to go into a T-shirt printing business with a neighbor.
He played with Rachel and her Barbie dolls, and John Jr. and his trains. When his boss, Maj. Michael P. Tomczak, wandered into the same restaurant one day, the ever-smiling sergeant took pride in introducing his children and wife, his high school sweetheart.
Both officers were described as diligent and aggressive workers.
Gregarious and outgoing, Platt couldn't stop his broad smile from stretching across his face, even when on the witness stand. McCarthy was known for never having a hair out of place and for being a stickler for neatness.
Tomczak recalled a woman praying this week at a makeshift memorial to the officers at Glenmore and Alta avenues. McCarthy had mediated a family dispute involving her.
"She didn't know his name, but she knew what he did," Tomczak said.
As the lengthy funeral procession started to move up Belair Road toward the cemetery, a police dispatcher used the radio to pay a final tribute that reached officers across the city, signing Platt and McCarthy permanently off the air at 1:14 p.m.
"Unit 41-30," she said, using the number that would alert Platt he should call in. She repeated the message and, after a moment, concluded: "Unit 41-30 is 10-7" - the police code for "out of service," or deceased.
The ritual was repeated for McCarthy: "Unit 41-35 is 10-7. We're clear."
A second later, the haunting radio silence was broken by an all too familiar refrain in Baltimore: A shooting on East Chase Street left a man dead, and a police officer was calling for help.