Sunday, October 21, 2018

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Off Beat: Police sergeant trying to locate photo of fallen comrade

Police sergeant searching for a photo of her department’s only officer ever killed in line of duty

  • Deborah-Brettingen
  • Joe-Coughlin

Almost 67 years ago, the Chippewa Falls Police Department lost Officer George Donald “Don” Spike. The 43-year-old Spike is the department’s only officer killed in the line of duty.

Even though Spike died decades before she was born, Chippewa Falls police Sgt. Deb Brettingen hasn’t forgotten the officer that made the ultimate sacrifice and is trying to put together a memorial for the Police Department’s lobby, so others don’t either.

Brettingen would like to include a photo of Spike, referred to in old media accounts as Donald G. Spike, but she has exhausted all leads, and she is hoping the public might be able to help.

“It’s been literally one dead end after another,” Brettingen said. “Someone out there has to have a box of stuff with old photos in it.”

Officer’s death

Spike died on Sept. 29, 1950. That night, a Friday, he was directing traffic on Jefferson Avenue after the close of the Chippewa Falls-Rice Lake football game, according to a news account. Spike died minutes after he was taken by ambulance to St. Joseph’s Hospital.

According to an old newspaper article Brettingen found:

Spike was struck by a car driven by Arthur Stilson of Eau Claire. During an inquest, Stilson said he was on his way to meet friends at Callahan Lake near Hayward and was planning to take part in a boat race in Duluth two days later on Sunday.

Stilson’s vehicle was pulling a trailer with a speed boat. He said he met several cars as he drove north on Jefferson Avenue, and as he approached the entrance to the fairgrounds one came out of the entrance a short distance in front of him and turned south in front of him.

Stilson said he didn’t notice a flare that was burning on the boulevard west of the highway and didn’t see Spike until an instant before his car struck him.

Stilson testified that he stepped on the brakes and was showered with glass, and the car spun around.

During the inquest, police Capt. Floyd Maloney testified he heard a thud, and he looked around and couldn’t see Spike. Thinking Spike might have been hit, he sent Patrolman Al Gaier to investigate. Gaier testified that when he arrived at the scene, he found Spike beneath the front end of a taxi.

The taxi driver, Emil Marquardt, said — as did all witnesses — that the pavement was wet, and vision was difficult.

Maloney also testified that Stilson showed no signs of having been drinking at the crash scene, but Stilson told the law enforcement officer at the police station he had drank three small bottles of beer earlier while bowling and later had two “peppermint snaps.”

The coroner’s jury returned a verdict finding Spike’s death was accidental. The officer, also a World War II veteran, left behind a wife, Stella, who later remarried.

The search

In her search for Spike’s photo, Brettingen has tried to track down old law enforcement officers and family members, but her efforts have been unsuccessful. Many of the people she’s sought out have passed away.

“It bothers me we haven’t been able to find his photo,” Brettingen said. “We should honor and respect our history.

Clip art depicting the shadow of an officer’s head over an American flag is what is displayed on the Officer Down Memorial Page. On the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund site, the photo box next to Spike’s name is blank. Both sites list the late officer’s name as Donald G. Spike.

Since Spike’s grave was located in Chippewa Fall’s Hope Cemetery, where his headstone reads George Donald Spike, the Police Deparment honors him each year during National Police Week.

Brettingen isn’t the only Chippewa Falls police officer who has tried to find Spike’s photo. Former longtime Chief Joe Coughlin also made an effort. His search included going through old photos at the department, but he didn’t find any photos of officers.

“I’m sure photos just weren’t as common back then,” Coughlin said. “It would be kind of neat if Deb can find it” because Spike shouldn’t be forgotten.

During his 25 years as Chippewa Fall’s police chief, Coughlin was thankful he never lost an officer.

“As a chief, you always feel a lot of responsibility,” he said. “You want your community to be safe, but also your officers.”

Contact: 715-830-5838, christena.obrien@ecpc.com, @CTOBrien on Twitter


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