The death of a Colerain Twp. police officer after he was struck by a pickup truck while outside his cruiser has underlined the dangers first responders face while at a scene, local officials said.
Officer Dale Woods, who was hit by a pickup truck while on-duty at the scene of a crash Friday night, died Monday night at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
Woods’ death is another somber reminder of the dangers associated with a career in public safety, said Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw. He often tells his officers to keep their “heads on a swivel” when they’re directing traffic at an accident scene.
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Even though officers are wearing uniforms and their cruiser lights are activated, they can be victims of distracted drivers, he said.
“A horrible situation,” he said. “I feel so bad for the officer and his family. It’s sad. It affects all of us.”
Last year, one in 10 police fatalities occurred when the officer was outside their vehicle, according to data collected by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Of the 144 federal, state and local law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty last year in the U.S., 14 were killed when they were struck outside their cruisers, according to the organization.
“It’s a crisis,” said Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw.
Firearms-related fatalities were the leading cause of officer deaths in the U.S. with 52 officers shot and killed last year, according to the organization. That was a 13 percent increase from the 46 officers killed in firearms incidents in 2017.
Fifty officers were killed in traffic-related incident last year, up 9 percent from 2017.
When a police officer is responding to a potentially dangerous call because of a firearm may be involved, they’re “on guard,” Muterspaw said. But when they’re directing traffic or interviewing witnesses at an accident scene, officers may not consider the hazards, he said.
“You don’t expect it,” Muterspaw said.
Hamilton Police Sgt. Rich Burkhardt said officers sometimes get “tunnel vision” when they’re directing traffic and they aren’t aware of their surroundings. When officers are pulling over a vehicle on a busy road, they should wear reflective vests and approach the car on the passenger side to reduce the possibility of getting hit, he said.
“You have to pay attention,” Burkhardt said. “If you don’t, you can just walk right into traffic. You got to be careful.”
While Burkhardt, in his 20th year on the force, has responded to hundreds of traffic accidents and spent shifts outside his cruiser, he never has fired his weapon.
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said his deputies drive about 1 million miles a year, many of them during inclement weather, at high rates of speed, and at accident scenes, some of the most dangerous conditions. He said they’re at risk for getting hit because of driver distractions like cell phones and electronic devices.
“They can’t be too careful,” he said of the deputies.
Woods, a 15-year veteran of Colerain Township Police, had 30 years of experience in fire and police work. He leaves behind three children.
Jones called Woods’ death “such a tragedy.”
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