Trooper Sean O'Connell
Trooper Sean O'Connell
Photo credit: Washington State Police
EVERETT, Wash. -- There was a certain repetition in the words of those who paid tribute Thursday to Trooper Sean O'Connell at his memorial service.
The Washington State Patrol motorcycle officer, who was killed in an on-duty traffic collision a week ago, was universally remembered as a selfless, devoted family man who was dedicated to his job, bore a contagious smile and cared about everyone with whom he interacted.
But perhaps it was Snohomish County Executive John Lovick, who had been O'Connell's supervisor at the State Patrol for six years, who summed it up most succinctly when he addressed the trooper's children.
"Your dad was the nicest man to ever walk the face of this Earth," Lovick said to O'Connell's 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter, who were seated in the front row with their mother, Alissa, at Everett's Comcast Arena. "He was so proud of you and he loved you so much."
The two-plus-hour memorial service was preceded by a 500-car motorcade and drew close to 2,000 people, including law-enforcement officers from the U.S. and Canada.
O'Connell, 38, was attached to the district headquarters in Marysville for most of his 16 years with the State Patrol and was well-known in Snohomish and Skagit counties, his colleagues said.
The Lake Stevens man was patrolling backed-up traffic on a detour around the collapsed Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River last Friday when he was thrown from his motorcycle in a collision with a box truck. The accident remains under investigation.
O'Connell, who was named Trooper of the Year in his district, grew up in New York and moved to Washington while he was in the Navy. He met Alissa while stationed in Bremerton, according to his brother, Fran O'Connell.
Fran O'Connell, a Washington, D.C., physician, said his brother had a gift for bringing out the best in people.
"We can honor Sean's memory by trying to be more like him," he said. "We'll answer our calling, love our friends and family, and find humor in the everyday events of life."
Gov. Jay Inslee said that he had breathed a sigh of relief when there was no loss of life when the Skagit River bridge collapsed May 23. He said O'Connell's death was a reminder that first responders are often also the last to leave disasters.
"Highways and bridges can be replaced, but lives cannot," Inslee said.
State Patrol Capt. Randy Drake said O'Connell was a "very engaging" and optimistic man who truly believed in people.
"That huge smile brought energy and life to everyone he met," Drake said.
State Patrol Chief John Batiste thanked O'Connell's parents for raising a great trooper and a tremendous human being.
"I don't think there was a better trooper who exemplified service with humility more than Sean O'Connell," Batiste said.
O'Connell's widow wiped her eyes, and wrapped her arms around her daughter and buried her face in the little girl's dark hair when the bagpipes opened the ceremony and when her husband's badge number was called for the last time.
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