Gone, but not forgotten: Thousands honor Trooper Sean O'Connell

EVERETT, Wash. -- Thousands of officers, troopers, deputies and Mounties from around the United States and Canada came to Everett Thursday to honor Washington State Patrol Trooper Sean O'Connell, who died in a collision Friday while on duty on his motorcycle in Skagit County.

The memorial began with a 13-mile procession that stretched from Smokey Point along I-5 to the site of the memorial at Comcast Arena in Everett. An estimated 350 police cars and motorcycles from areas such as Minnesota, Indiana, Canada, Kirkland and Yakima filled the southbound lanes, whose overpasses teemed with men and women holding signs and American flags to honor O'Connell.

The hearse arrived at the arena to the sound of bagpipes and passed under a giant American flag hung from the extended arching ladders of two fire trucks.

As an honor guard kept watch over the casket, about 2,200 people moved inside for the three-hour ceremony that was steeped in honor and tradition for saying goodbye to a fallen law enforcement officer.

Troopers first posted a gold streamer bearing Trooper O'Connell's name to the department colors, joining the streamers of 27 other troopers who have lost their lives on duty.

"Sean O'Connell was not just a great trooper, he was a tremendous human being," Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste said. "I don't think there was a better trooper who that exemplified service with humility than Trooper Sean O'Connell."

Fran O'Connell remembered his younger brother's dedication to the Washington State Patrol and that sense of humor that disarmed even people he pulled over.

"As I searched my heart recalling my past memories of Sean, I came to the conclusion that he lived to serve others. It is a reflection of the way he was raised and the way in which he sought to give back to his community," he said. "One of Sean's greatest attributes was his sense of humor. He was not afraid to laugh at himself or point out the absurdities of life, but do so in a way that made us all fell welcome, but entertained. "

Former Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick, who was named county executive this week, supervised O'Connell in the 1990s when Lovick was a patrol sergeant.

"It's is frankly beyond my capacity to do justice to this great man. He was like a son to me -- he frankly called me Dad and I liked it," Lovick said. "Sean was one of the greatest ambassadors that law enforcement has ever had. He was a wonderful trooper, a true professional, and he treated everyone so well. Everybody that he met mattered to him. He was a great man."

Lovick lauded Trooper O'Connell as the world's proudest husband, father and son, who loved serving his community.

"He loved the State Patrol, and I am so honored and proud he considered me his friend," Lovick said.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who earlier directed that flags at state offices and institutions be lowered to half-staff Thursday in memory of O'Connell, offered thanks and support on behalf of the entire state to Trooper O'Connell's family.

"On behalf of the 6 million Washingtonians who admire his public service, I've come of offer our condolences to the family of Trooper Sean O'Connell," Inslee said. "You all have our support in the days and years to come."

Inslee said he was inspired by the life of Trooper O'Connell, who despite being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 10 years ago, excelled in his career and even made Trooper of the Year for his patrol district.

"I did not know him, but I know his sense of humor. I know he was a person who wanted everyone around them to be proud of themselves," Inslee said.

After the remembrances were given, bagpipes played Amazing Grace and then seven troopers of the honor guard knelt in succession in front of the casket as a 21 bell salute was given. The American flag that draped O'Connell's coffin was tightly folded into a triangle and presented to O'Connell's wife by Chief Batiste as Taps soon sounded on a bugle.

Dispatchers then made one final radio call for Trooper Sean O'Connell, using call sign and his badge number "Mary 1076" to signify he was on a motorcycle.

"Everett Mary 1076 status... Everett Mary 1076 status... Mary 1076 out of service for the last time. Gone, but not forgotten."

As those in the crowd saluted, an honor guard removed O'Connell's coffin to be taken via motorcade to a funeral home.

"As we leave this place today, know that we will never forget 1076," Batiste said. "We love him, we love him dearly, and we will miss him."

O'Connell's family suggested donations in his memory could be made to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society or the Washington State Patrol Memorial Foundation.