One year later, city continues to honor Officer David Romrell
Jan 06, 2020 11:08AM
By Bill Hardesty
Officer Romrell’s bust along with the Utah Honor Flag in the lobby of the David P. Romrell Public Safety Building. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)
By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]
For almost a year, the South Salt Lake Police Department officers have worn an End of Watch patch on their left sleeve, the side closest to their heart. A fellow officer, David P. Romrell, was killed Nov. 24, 2018, the first South Salt Lake officer to die in the line of duty.
At around 5:30 p.m., Officer Romrell and Officer Carson Aprato responded to a burglary in progress at a business at 3575 S. West Temple. The officers confronted the suspect's car. Aprato was to the left and Romrell was to the right. There was a parking island with shrubs between Romrell and the car. In less than a minute, the suspect targeted Romrell by hitting the gas. The car became airborne as it jumped the parking island and shrubs. Romrell was able to fire his weapon before being sucked under the car.
Even with additional shots by Aprato, the car continued onto West Temple. The car became inoperable. Aprato went toward the car to see the suspects run. Knowing they could be found later; he returned to Romrell to start life-saving measures.
Romrell was transported to Intermountain Medical Center (IMC). Police Chief Jack Carruth arrived from a social event as Romrell was taken into the ER. He was soon sent for exploratory surgery to discover the source of internal bleeding. It was discovered that his aorta had been torn from his heart. He was immediately transferred for thoracic surgery.
Meanwhile, the police department was having problems contacting Liz Romrell since it was the holiday season. They did an all-out search for Liz. When she returned home, an officer was waiting to take her to IMC.
Liz arrived when he was in the second surgery. Liz is a nurse and knew that it didn't look good. Soon, the surgeon and Carruth informed Liz that her husband didn't make it.
Romrell left behind a wife and then a 4-month-old son.
"It was the worst thing I have ever had to go through," Mayor Cherie Wood said.
Wood was watching "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" at a local theater. She stepped out to take a call because, "When Jack (Carruth) calls, you take the call."
"He told me an officer had been hit by a car and would keep me posted," Wood remembered.
She returned to the movie but doesn't remember any of it. After the movie, she decided to go to IMC to offer support.
"There is no book for things like this," Wood said.
IMC had moved Romrell to an empty wing of the hospital.
"I remember walking pass South Salt Lake officers standing at attention from the elevator to David's room. It was then I realized the idea that police are a family is real," Wood said.
When Romrell's body, draped with an American flag passed those same officers, each saluted their fellow officer. From that time to his burial, two officers watched over his body.
While the police department handled funeral arrangements, Wood led the city and community response. City employees wore a blue and black ribbon. The following Sunday, a candlelight vigil was held at the Columbus Center.
"It was cold, but it gave people a chance to come together and give thanks to a person who made the ultimate sacrifice," Wood said.
"I am also grateful for Jack. He fulfilled a unique role as he personally grieved and helped others do so," Wood remarked.
When asked how he did that, Carruth became emotional.
"In my time in law enforcement, I have noticed there is always one person who is a rock. One person who helps the family grieve and keep them together. As I turned into the hall following David’s body and saw my officers lining the hall, I knew I had to be that rock," Carruth replied.
Carruth wanted to make sure the family drove funeral arrangements, but they also expected about 3,000 officers to attend, which is another example of the Blue Family. Because of the cultural significance of the number 5, Liz decided to hold the funeral on Dec. 5.
Carruth told about an experience that really surprised him. He and other senior officers were having a meeting with the family. It was scheduled for two hours and specific funeral items were being discussed. The meeting went longer than two hours. Sometime before the incident, a swearing-in ceremony had been scheduled the same day. With 10 minutes before the ceremony, Carruth excused himself assuming the meeting would continue.
"After greeting the family of the new officer, I looked up and saw Liz standing in the audience. That wasn't something I expected. In fact, Liz has been to every swearing-in ceremony except for one because she was in New York at another officer's funeral. She talks to every family. She is a rock," Carruth said.
On Nov. 24 of this year, city officials, officers from other agencies, family, friends and community representatives joined the SSLPD to dedicate the David P. Romrell Public Safety Building. The SSLPD police station was renamed in his honor.
Deputy Chief Dwayne F. Ruth conducted the program. He gave a brief history of the events a year earlier and explained how the community paid tribute by bathing the building in blue and creating a makeshift memorial around Romrell's car.
Cody Cross spoke about the Utah Honor Flag and the significance of the 13 folds in the flag. The flag was by Romrell's bust for the week after the dedication.
Jennifer Romrell Legerski, David’s sister, gave a life sketch. She talked about how he invented the skinny jeans and had a wonderful cheesy grin. She mentioned that he and Liz met at 19 and dated for three years. They broke it off. Soon, he realized that he needed to make some changes in his life including bulking up. With the guidance of mentors, he decided to join the Marines. While at boot camp, Liz and David exchanged letters. With 13 days between graduating from boot camp and reporting for additional training, they rekindled their love and got married before he left in 2010.
Liz stayed here to finish school while Romrell was deployed numerous times. They finally were able to live together when he finished his enlistment. After joining the Marine Reserve, he felt like he needed to do more. He enrolled in the police academy without being sponsored and became the president of his class. He joined the SSLPD 11 months before his death.
She ended by quoting George Jung, “May the wind always be at your back and the sun upon your face. And may the wings of destiny carry you aloft to dance with the stars.”
"David is with the stars," Legerski concluded.
In true Liz Romrell fashion, the first statement she made was to offer her condolences to the SSLFD for the loss of Fire Marshall Russ Groves, who was buried the day earlier. She called them, "my fire family."
She thanked Chief Carruth for his incredible support. In a humorous moment, she mentioned that she knew some of the ways the city was honoring Romrell, but it wasn't until she got her invitation that she learned "they were naming the entire building after him."
Because for the first four years of their married life together, they mostly communicated through emails and letters, Liz read a letter she wrote to David.
Two excerpts from the touching letter:
"People have asked me when I’ll be ready to move on… but how do I move on? There is no such thing. With memories and the help of Jackson, I have learned to move forward, with you. We were always on this adventure together. Now, more than ever, we continue this journey together because when you marry someone after only being engaged for 13 days, that stays with you. When you embrace each other for the first time, after an 11-month deployment — that stays with you. When you see your husband stand tall and proud and become a Police Officer, something that he was destined to be — that stays with you. And because when your husband announces the gender of your baby at the delivery — that stays with you. All of these moments and so many more will forever stay with me as I move forward in life."
"Over this past year, I have cried more than I thought possible. I have learned the true meaning of loss. But then I find moments of pure joy when I look into the eyes of our son, Jackson. His pure, kind, sweet eyes. I see so much of you in him. His determination and ability to love and care so deeply, all come from you. As I move forward, I look toward our Jackson. I am proud knowing he will know his daddy as a Hero. I get excited telling him about Daddy’s many foot pursuits after bad guys. I will tell him how Daddy had so many foot pursuits, the Department had to give him a special mount for his body camera so it wouldn’t keep flying off! This determination is one of your many characteristics I know Jackson will radiate in the world."
She concluded by saying, "I know that this year has been extremely difficult, but I want us to look to the future. I want us to make memories and go on adventures, as David would have wanted. In fact, last night I went on a little adventure of my own, to the liquor store! I bought David's favorite liquor, Bulleit Bourbon. I have some to share! Here's to you, David!"
During his remarks, Carruth mentioned that one of the memorable events during the funeral was pushups. He asked anyone to come and do pushups for Romrell. A few Marine buddies, fellow officers and Liz came forward.
Carruth talked about the history of the "End of Watch" car that was used in the July 4th parade and the "End of Watch" patch. He also talked about how Romrell’s locker became a makeshift memorial by his fellow officers and now is a permanent memorial.
Wood spoke about two great qualities exhibited by Romrell and all officers. They are perseverence and true grit.
The ceremony concluded by raising the flag back to full staff.
The ceremony was followed by the ribbon cutting on the David P. Romrell Public Safety building. Liz and Romrell's father cut the ribbon.
In addition to the city’s events, Romrell was honored during National Police Week earlier this year.
How has the city changed?
Wood mentioned this tragic event brought police closer together, the police, fire and city employees closer as well and said, "I come to work every day knowing of those who keep my family and the greater community safe and now knowing the potential outcome of their service it is emotionally overwhelming."
Carruth believes there is a greater support for his department by other city employees and the greater community.
"People always appreciated the police, but now there is a deeper appreciation because they now realize the ultimate sacrifice might be given," Carruth said.
Sharla Bynum, District 3 council member, had an additional observation.
"The tragic death of Officer David Romrell changed our city and will forever frame our discussions concerning public safety. Immediately after, all elected officials put aside differences and rallied together to honor and mourn David’s ultimate sacrifice. But months later, our city council disagreed about how to adequately compensate our first responders. I’ll never forget Liz Romrell urging us to find a sustainable funding source, reminding us that her husband was making approximately $40,000 a year at the time of his death. At the one-year anniversary, we renamed our police station the David P. Romrell Public Safety Building. Once again, we were united to ensure that David’s memory will live on in South Salt Lake. I only hope that in the future we can express our gratitude for all our first responders by providing adequate compensation," Bynum reflected.
The driver of the car, Felix Anthony Calata, died of fatal wounds a few yards from the car. The other suspect was found by K9 police nearby and a trial date has not been set.