Five, that’s the number of line-of-duty deaths I’ve reported on for the Daily American Republic.
All five were killed in Southeast Missouri and/or had direct ties to our local area.
Although the first one I reported was in 1996, I still can recall many of the details of the traffic crash that took the life of Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Randy Sullivan. He died in a fiery crash while attempting to conduct a traffic stop on a speeding vehicle.
In February 2001, I was at Troop E Headquarters not long after the reports of Sgt. Robert Guilliams’ fatal accident came in. Staff members and troopers alike were stunned to learn the 17-year veteran had been killed while responding to an accident in Pemiscot County.
Of the line-of-duty deaths I’ve reported on, two affected me personally, as I knew both Sgt. David May and Cpl. Jay Sampietro.
May was killed in May 1999 in a helicopter crash on a stormy afternoon in Poplar Bluff.
May and a civilian photographer were killed after having spent much of the day photographing and videotaping the law enforcement torch run for Special Olympics in Southeast Missouri.
I had contact with May earlier that morning while at Troop E Headquarters. It was then he asked if I wanted to fly with him that day. As I joked with May, little did I know less than eight hours later he would be dead.
Fast forward to August 2005, Sampietro, who had became Troop E’s chief pilot after May’s death, lost his own life in a traffic crash.
Sampietro had spent much of his 13-year career in Troop E before transferring to Troop D to be closer to his wife’s family.
He was killed while directing traffic as other troopers reconstructed the scene of an earlier quadruple fatality in Webster County.
Just months before Sampietro’s death, I had reported extensively on the March 2005, death of Sgt. Carl Dewayne Graham Jr.
A 12-year veteran of the highway patrol, Graham was found shot to death in the driveway of his Van Buren residence on Highway M. He was still in uniform, having just completed his shift.
Although I didn’t personally know Graham, I did know some of his zone mates, as well as his brothers in blue.
Fourteen years later, I found myself again heading for Carter County on Aug. 16 to cover another officer-involved shooting.
As the events unfolded at a Highway M home outside of Van Buren, I was thankful I wouldn’t be reporting on line-of-duty death No. 6 or 7 or more.
Instead, both Carter County Deputy Brigg Pierson and Trooper Caleb McCoy had suffered non-life threatening injuries while attempting to serve an eviction notice.
Pierson was shot multiple times in the chest, groin and leg as he was kicking in the door of the home occupied by James D. Cummings.
As Pierson kicked the door open, Cummings allegedly began to fire.
McCoy, who was shot once in the chest, was taken to an area hospital, where he was treated and released the same day.
Pierson continues to recover in a St. Louis hospital.
What happened to Pierson and McCoy almost seems indicative of the state of our country as respect for law enforcement and the law is waning, and the dangers they face each day are increasing.
This year alone, 83 officers nationwide have been killed in the line-of-duty, including one in Missouri.
Michael Langsdorf, a North County Police Cooperative officer, was shot and killed June 23 as he was responding to a call about a man attempting to cash a fraudulent check. Langsdorf was shot several minutes after contacting the suspect at a business.
I have to shake my head and wonder, what is this country coming to?
In my mind, the call Langsdorf found himself responding to shouldn’t have to be one where an officer would expect to be fired upon.
But, as any officer would probably tell you, there’s is no such thing as a routine call now.
Being a law enforcement officer always has been a dangerous job by its very nature. Like firefighters, they are the ones running toward danger when everyone is fleeing.
I, for one, am grateful there are men and women who are willing to do that for me and my family.
With several family members and close friends who are members of law enforcement, my concern for them is always there.
Will they make it home at the end of their shift? The hope is yes, but the reality is ….
Michelle Friedrich is a reporter for the Daily American Republic and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .