Widow Talks About Life After Kansas Deputy's Death

A Sedgwick County Sheriff's deputy had been shot. "I just wanted to make sure Brian is OK," a friend on the phone told Sarah Etheridge, whose husband had been a deputy for less than a year.


"I didn't know what to do," he said. "My thing coming out of having been shot was the thought that if anybody went through that same thing again, I was going to go there and at least make sure that they knew that they could get ahold of me" and be there to help them navigate the road to recovery.

"You're feeling frustration and anger all the time" on that journey, he said, because you're constantly reminded of what you can't do anymore.

He was told the deputy had been taken to Wesley, so he started driving there.

"Then I thought, 'This is stupid. If he's going there, he's going to be there a few hours and all I'm going to do is be in the way.' "

He called a friend, another law enforcement officer, and learned the shooter was still on the loose. He went to his friend's house, where they monitored a police scanner to learn the latest developments.

Then he went home to change for the part-time job he had on his days off. By then, he had learned the wounded deputy was Brian Etheridge, whom he had met earlier that year.

While he was at his second job, he began getting updates via text message from an officer at Wesley who had been in the police academy class with Brian.

The news was not good.

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Not long after the surgery began, Sarah, her parents and her in-laws were moved to a hallway leading to the surgical intensive care unit.

"That way I would be able to see him when they brought him out of surgery," Sarah said.

She had a tendency to worry about things a lot, and Brian had always been the one to remind her that things weren't that bad. She kept telling herself that as they waited: It's not that bad. He's going to be all right.

They both grew up in Derby, but didn't really become acquainted until they were seniors in high school and worked together at El Paso Animal Clinic in Derby. Even though they worked together, Brian was so shy he didn't start chatting with Sarah for months.

"He was just so quiet," she said. "He was hard to get to know."

But when he finally did start talking, she discovered a man who was thoughtful, funny and caring. They started dating shortly after they began attending Kansas State University, and married the spring after they graduated.

Their daughter, Natalie, was born about a year later.

Brian's desire to be a police officer made Sarah nervous. She knew how dangerous the profession could be. But she did her best to set aside her fears.

"When you love someone, you support their dreams," she said.

When he applied for the police academy shortly after they were married and was rejected, he was crushed. Maybe, he told Sarah, he wasn't meant to have a career in law enforcement. But she encouraged him to keep trying.

He got a job at the juvenile detention facility and reapplied for the police academy in 2009. This time, he was accepted -- by the sheriff's office.

He began the 22-week course on July 7, 2008. Days later, a Wichita police officer nearly died after being shot.

"I remember that very well," Sarah said, though she couldn't recall the officer's name at the time. "I wasn't very happy about it."

It was a reminder, she knew, of what could happen. But Brian found the words to calm her.

It could happen to anyone, he said. People get killed simply driving to work.

Besides, the chances of something actually happening to him while he was on duty were so small they were hardly worth worrying about.

She talked herself into believing him, but still called occasionally while he was on duty just to assure herself he was OK.

As she waited in the hallway, she kept telling herself Brian would be OK. It wasn't that bad.

When a surgeon emerged shortly after 2 p.m., however, his words stunned her.

"Sarah, he's hurt really, really bad. He's bleeding a lot."

They were doing all they could to stop the bleeding and bring his body temperature up, he said, but it was going to be tough.

"He needs your prayers," the surgeon added. "There's a real good chance he's not going to make it."

Brian died at 4:20 p.m.

"I never got to see him before he died," Sarah said. "I never got to tell him, 'I love you' one last time.

"I'm sure he knew, but... "

---

Shortly before 6 p.m., Sarah was escorted to a room where Brian had been taken after he died. She sat by her husband in silence, stunned at how abruptly the life they built together had been torn apart.

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