A look at some local tragedies involving police

North America has recently been shocked by the tragic deaths of a number of police officers in what were apparently targeted attacks against them. Regardless of any other issues involved in these terrible events, they are reminders of how police and other emergency services people literally risk their lives every day to serve the general public.

Red Deer has largely been exempt from such tragedies.

No Red Deer firefighter has lost their life while fighting a local fire, although several were killed while serving overseas in the military during a time of war.

Unfortunately, the same is not the case with our police.

On April 6th, 1977, Const. Dennis Shwaykowski, a member of Red Deer’s RCMP City Detachment, was killed while on active duty in an incident at the Parkland Mall.

On that tragic spring evening, the RCMP received a call about a serious development at the Trapper Dave’s restaurant. A 28-year-old man was despondent about a break-up with his girlfriend. After he spotted her sitting with other men at the restaurant, he went home, collected a gun and then returned to make angry threats.

By the time Shwaykowski and his partner arrived, the man had left the premises. However, the culprit was still driving his half-ton truck around the parking lot.

Shwaykowski approached the truck on foot. He ordered the driver to stop and get out of his vehicle.

Unfortunately, the driver refused and began arguing.

The suspect then began to drive away.

Shwaykowski jumped on the truck’s driving board and tried to get the man to stop.

The truck accelerated to 80 km/h as it headed towards a landscaped area of rocks and spruce trees in the middle of the parking lot. The truck bumped on the rocks.

Shwaykowski was thrown from the running board. He passed away from his injuries almost immediately.

The suspect took off, but by the time he reached a north-side service station, he started to gain control of himself again. He pulled over and asked someone to call police. He was still very emotional, but cooperative, when the RCMP arrived. He readily surrendered.

The man was originally charged with first-degree murder, but he later pled guilty to a charge of criminal negligence causing death. He subsequently served a three-year sentence.

Shwaykowski was survived by his wife Linda and three young children. His funeral was a massive one. There is a black marble memorial plaque to him at the RCMP’s City detachment station.

Another dramatic, but less tragic event happened in Red Deer on June 1st, 1911. Red Deer’s Police Chief George Bell was shot by a masked gunman after he rushed to the scene of an armed robbery.

The assailant was a young transient.

When he drifted into Red Deer, he was penniless and hungry. Ironically, when Bell ran into him a couple of days before, Bell had given him a dollar to help him buy a meal.

When Bell arrived during the robbery, the assailant was startled and shot him in the stomach. Despite his life-threatening injuries, Bell was still able to blow his whistle and sound an alarm. The two businessmen, who had just been robbed, frantically tried to help Bell as the gunman fled.

A massive manhunt ensued.

The police and a citizens’ posse were sure that the shooter had left town. Therefore, they allowed the local Boy Scout troop to search some bush near the fairgrounds and not far from the scene of the shooting.

To everyone’s surprise, the Scouts found the man in the trees. They kept him surrounded until armed backup arrived. The culprit quickly surrendered and readily admitted his guilt.

Because Bell recovered from his near fatal injuries, the young transient was charged with armed robbery and attempted murder. He was sent to jail for seven years.

Once there, he wrote a very sad note to Chief Bell that said, “Dear Friend George. Please forgive me for the trick I have done to you. Hope to see you soon.”

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