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Canine’s Death Is a Big Loss to Officer : Crime: The police dog was stabbed while cornering a suspect his partner had sent him after.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A police officer Monday was mourning the death of his canine partner, fatally stabbed by a cornered suspect, but was comforted by the knowledge that the dog had died protecting officers’ lives.

Officer Jim Weaver declined to be interviewed Monday about his canine companion, Kim, but Sgt. Dan Johnson said Weaver realizes that one of Kim’s functions “is exactly what happened, to protect the officer.”

“If one of the officers had been forced to catch the suspect, one of them might have been stabbed,” said Johnson, who heads the department’s five-dog canine unit. Kim--who died after emergency surgery, heart massage and several transfusions--is the first Huntington Beach police dog killed in the line of duty.

The stabbing occurred on Sunday after what what started out as a routine traffic stop. Weaver spotted a car with expired registration tags and pulled the driver over at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Golden West Street. The officer noticed that the driver, Nick Spagnolla of Harrisburg, Pa., tried to hide his driver’s license, so Weaver returned to his unit to check on Spagnolla, Johnson said. But Spagnolla suddenly sped away.

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Weaver chased him to the intersection of Seal Beach and Westminster boulevards, where Spagnolla crashed and ran, police said. Weaver, who did not know that the driver was armed, followed him on foot and sent Kim ahead. The dog caught the suspect, who produced a 4-inch paring knife and repeatedly stabbed the dog in the shoulders and chest, inflicting massive injuries.

Spagnolla sustained a deep, 4-inch gash in his thigh and dog bites during the struggle, police said. He dropped his knife and was taken into custody by the officers. He was arrested on suspicion of evading a police officer and killing the dog, a felony, and taken to Long Beach Memorial Hospital. He was transferred to the Orange County Jail ward at Western Medical Center-Santa Ana on Monday. Police did not know late Monday why he fled.

At the scene, a police helicopter pilot determined that there was enough room in his aircraft to take in Kim--along with Weaver--to rush the bleeding dog to the Orange County Emergency Medical Clinic in Garden Grove.

Veterinarian Cliff Matsuda and four technicians worked on Kim for several hours, trying to stop the bleeding and giving him blood transfusions. At one point, Johnson said, one of the technicians retrieved his own dog to donate blood. But when Kim’s bleeding would not stop, the veterinarian performed emergency surgery, cutting open the chest and massaging the heart. When the dog’s heart stopped, the veterinarian repeatedly gave it electric shock with paddles, “just like doctors do on people,” Johnson said. Kim’s heart started beating again but after 30 minutes it stopped for a final time. “The dog had just lost too much blood,” Johnson said.

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Johnson, who was at the hospital, said Weaver was understandably upset. He added: “It was hard just for me to sit there and watch him die.”

There is a special bond that unites a police dog and its human, badge-wearing, constant companion. Officers train with their dogs more than 25 hours a week, in addition to living with them and working on the job with them, Johnson explained.

Further, the dogs are not called out “to handle double-parkers,” Johnson said. They are used for high-stress, high-danger situations, such as combing buildings for suspects, he said.

“You become reliant on the dog, and the dogs sometimes become reliant on their handlers,” Johnson said. “They become just like partners. . . . That’s why you see officers with 17, 18 years’ experience break down when their dogs pass away.”

Kim will be cremated and his ashes will be buried during a small ceremony at a local pet cemetery which has set aside spaces for police dogs.

The Police Department, which has four other police dogs, plans to quickly replace Kim, and the new dog--which will cost $4,000--will go to Weaver. The officer and his new dog will have to go to a Riverside training school for a month--for an additional $2,000--before the new canine can join the force.

Weaver, however, has two living souvenirs of Kim. The dog fathered a litter, and Weaver kept two of the pups, now 11 months old.

Kim had a good personality and disposition, Johnson said. “Some of the (police) dogs have a hard time turning it off. They’re always on duty. But Kim could differentiate,” he said. “When it was time to go to work, he went to work. And when it was time to play, he played. To Jim Weaver and his wife and their new baby he was like their pet.”

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