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A Cop’s Best Friend Dies in Line of Duty

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hawthorne Police Officer Dave Harris wept over the death of his partner Tuesday.

Harris is a dog handler in one of Hawthorne’s four canine units, and his German shepherd Urko was run over by a car driven by a robbery suspect fleeing police Tuesday night.

The car, traveling about 60 m.p.h., struck the dog at the intersection of 130th Street and Hawthorne Boulevard, went out of control and crashed, authorities said Wednesday.

The dog’s back was broken and he died a short time later at Coast Animal Hospital in Hermosa Beach, police said. The suspect was not seriously injured and was arrested at the scene.

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Harris also was uninjured, but distraught.

“He was much more than just a pet,” Harris said Wednesday. “He’s your partner, he’s a friend, and you couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Urko’s death in the line of duty came on the same day the department held a memorial service for another one of its dogs, which died recently of cancer.

In the ceremony on the front lawn of the police station on 126th Street, about 100 mourners gathered to honor Iox, who had been with the department for more than seven years and had been retired in September because of his illness. About 20 canine handlers from police departments as far away as San Bernardino, along with their four-legged partners, lined the street that had been blocked off to traffic. Iox’s handler, Officer Chet Wojciechowski, delivered a simple eulogy for a dog that understood only commands uttered in German.

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A similar ceremony is planned for Urko next Wednesday.

“Dave . . . needs lots of support right now,” Sgt. Rick Shindle, head of the Hawthorne canine unit, said of Harris. “That’s what’s nice about canine handlers from the other cities being here. They support each other. They know what it’s like to lose a partner like that.”

Officers say the use of dogs in many departments has added a new element of camaraderie to a job in which officers must have confidence in the strength and ability of a partner.

Harris, 33, a nine-year veteran of the department, said Urko died trying to protect him.

The incident that took the dog’s life began in Lakewood, when a 20-year-old suspect allegedly stole a car from a motorist at a gas station at gunpoint. The suspect led police on a chase through several cities.

Harris and Urko, responding to a call for backup units, went to 130th Street and Hawthorne Boulevard.

“Me and another guy and our partners blocked the streets with our cars,” Harris said. “I saw the suspect coming at us real fast, and I saw that he wasn’t going to stop. So I went back to my car to get my dog out of the way.”

When he opened his car door, Urko leaped out, he said.

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“He was all keyed up,” Harris said. “He jumped out of the car looking for a bad guy, and when he realized there was no bad guy out there, he turned around to come back to me. And that’s when he got hit.”

Harris said he was about 10 feet away from Urko when he was struck.

“I ran over to my dog, and he just kind of looked up at me,” Harris said, his voice breaking. “I went and got a blanket . . . and one of my partners took us to a 24-hour emergency clinic.

“On the way there, he just kind of picked up his head and looked at me like he was saying goodby, and then he just flopped down.”

In the meantime, the police chase continued for another 10 blocks before the suspect lost control of the vehicle and it overturned, colliding with another car, police said. The second motorist was not injured, police said.

Richard Garcia was booked on suspicion of robbery and causing injury or death to a police dog, a felony.


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