FAIRFIELD — The Games of the XXIII Olympiad in Los Angeles were getting underway. Actor James Mason had a heart attack and died at 75. And Fairfield lost a part of its innocence with the death of Art Koch, the first – and only – Fairfield police officer to die in the line of duty.
It was July 28, 1984.
“In some respects, it seems like it was yesterday,” said Chuck Timm, Koch’s partner.
Other times, Timm said he realizes three decades have passed.
A decade ago, Timm said he couldn’t talk about Koch without shedding a tear. Now he can smile and recall playing softball with Koch, and the phrase they used, “time to roll,” when a call came in.
“He was a hard charger,” Timm said. “He was fair. He loved his family more than he loved the job, and we (police officers) love the job a lot.”
Sarah Koch-Schiller was 6 when her father died. She was scheduled Friday to deliver her second child, a son, by caesarean section. His middle name is to be Arthur, after her father.
“My dad was a very involved, present dad,” Koch-Schiller said. “When he wasn’t working, we did fun things.”
One of her fondest memories is that of her father tossing her in the air.
“It’s still very vivid today,” she said.
A high school research project was the first time she delved into details about her father’s death. A few years later, she said she had some grief work to do surrounding her father’s death.
Koch-Schiller is a licensed marriage and family therapist who lives in the Bay Area. She’s involved with the group Concerns of Police Survivors and worked with the group’s kids camps, which serve children, ages 6-14, of members of law enforcement who died in the line of duty. This year’s camp opens Monday.
Koch (pronounced Coach) was 34 and a five-year veteran of the department. He had just been promoted to sergeant and was hours away from a vacation with his wife and three children.
The officer was responding to calls of possible shots being fired on Berkeley Way, off Dover Avenue. He pulled up in front of the suspect’s house, got out of his car and was hit by bullet to the chest and fell to the ground.
“We’re not really sure Art heard the whole transmission,” Timm said.
Different channels were being used during the dispatch. Koch may not have known what was really going on, Timm said.
Police had previous contacts with the home and one of its occupants, Stanley Verketis, a legless Vietnam veteran. When dealing with Verketis, cops had been told to park on Dover Avenue, as a precaution, Timm said.
Koch lay in the street, bleeding, by his patrol car. The bullets continued to fly.
There was no SWAT team to call in to take out Verketis and rescue Koch. It didn’t exist. About 20 minutes after the shooting, a plan was devised: Throw a water curtain at the house as a distraction. Firefighters George Honey and Bob Fradenburg volunteered.
“You have to figure out what to do with what you have,” Honey said. “We had the information we needed. We felt we could do it. We didn’t see any other choice.”
Fradenburg sat in the driver’s seat of the fire truck as Honey clung to the right side, away from the Verketis residence. The goal was to remain invisible. Fradenburg pulled up in front of the house and hit the brakes. Honey climbed up the side of the truck to the top, grabbed a house and blasted the water.
“We figured we had 30 seconds, max,” Honey said.
A medical truck was able to pull up, a paramedic jumped out, ran to Koch and dragged him to the vehicle, put him in the back, and sped away.
“They are the biggest heroes,” Timm said of the firefighters.
Verketis came out of the house about seven hours after firing the first shot. Koch died about an hour later in the early hours of July 29, 1984.
Koch has never been forgotten, Timm said. A few years ago, the city named its new indoor pistol and rifle range after Koch. The fourth annual Fallen Officers Shooting Competition will take place there Oct. 11.
Verketis is now 66 and is housed at Salinas Valley State Prison. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.