Solemn procession, funeral honor fallen trooper

EVERETT — Trooper Sean O’Connell was a family man.

He loved his family at home. He loved his family at work.

“Everyone he met mattered to him,” Snohomish County Executive John Lovick told hundreds of people gathered Thursday for the trooper’s memorial service.

Lovick, a retired state trooper, was O’Connell’s sergeant for six years. He said he was honored that O’Connell called him “Dad.”

“He was like a son to me,” Lovick said.

And on Thursday afternoon, Lovick spoke to the fallen trooper’s own young son and daughter. He promised to sit down with them soon and tell them about their father.

“Your dad was the nicest man to walk the face of the earth,” Lovick said.

O’Connell, 38, died May 31 in an on-duty motorcycle collision while working traffic control related to the Skagit River bridge collapse. The Marysville-area man was a 16-year veteran of the State Patrol.

Chief John Batiste said the motorcycle officer embodied the State Patrol’s motto: Service with humility.

O’Connell was so cheerful and friendly that there probably were drivers he stopped who would gladly have written their own tickets after encountering the trooper, the crowd was told.

“That’s how well he treated people,” Batiste said.

About 2,200 people attended O’Connell’s memorial service on Thursday. About 350 police cars joined the motorcade which started near Arlington, traveled south on I-5 and arrived at Comcast Arena just after 11 a.m.

When the hearse carrying O’Connell rolled up in front of the arena it was greeted by silence and several hundred uniformed officers standing at attention.

Mournful music of pipes and drums played as the flag-draped casket carrying the trooper was escorted inside.

The police officers raised their arms in salute as civilians stood with their hands over their hearts.

His family accompanied the casket to its place at the front of the arena, then filed out, waiting for the service to begin.

At one point, the arena was quiet except for the small footsteps of O’Connell’s daughter as she held her mother’s hand and walked by a sea of blue uniforms and men and women wearing distinctive wide-brimmed campaign hats.

Later, State Patrol troopers in the motorcycle detachment came in together and sat at the front of the arena. Nearby was a handmade sign from second-graders at Allen Creek Elementary School in Marysville.

“Sean O’Connell we’ll never forget you. You are a hero. WSP 1076,” read the sign.

The community is part of the ceremony, said patrol Capt. Randy Drake, who served as the master of ceremonies. A police funeral is meant to honor and remember those who make the ultimate sacrifice, he said.

The service began with a slow march and salute. A lone trooper stood at attention.

Trooper Ethan Wynecoop took up a bugle. The honor guard and others marched to their places. Drums sounded. There was another bugle call.

The trooper’s wife, Alissa O’Connell, hugged their 5-year-old daughter. Mother and child wept together. She patted her son’s back. The 7-year-old’s red tie matched his father’s bright red motorcycle and snowboard, displayed at the front of the room.

In keeping with State Patrol tradition, O’Connell’s name joined those of other fallen troopers on the agency’s ceremonial flag. His fellow motorcycle troopers — his close friends — huddled together on stage with Batiste after the gold streamer was attached to the flag staff.

Drake called O’Connell an optimistic man who often, in dealing with difficult people, said “That guy just needs a hug.”

He believed he could make a difference in people’s lives and took great pride in his work.

“It’s a brotherhood he loved with all of his heart,” he said.

Batiste addressed O’Connell’s parents. “Thank you for having such a wonderful son,” he said.

He also thanked the trooper’s wife.

“Alissa, you were a tremendous wife to this man. He constantly raved about you and his children,” Batiste said.

Batiste told the crowd that he takes some comfort knowing that O’Connell died doing the job he loved. He was proud to be a trooper and a part of the motorcycle unit.

O’Connell joined the U.S. Navy right out of high school. He was stationed with the USS Abraham Lincoln in Bremerton when he met his wife. They were soulmates, his brother, Fran O’Connell, said.

The trooper believed in doing his best, and he found his happiness in the happiness of others. “He would want us to remember him as a person who made people smile,” Fran O’Connell said.

Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Sean Reay attended the service. He met O’Connell in court about eight years ago. Reay was working in the county’s district courts at the time, prosecuting traffic and misdemeanor cases. O’Connell and Reay became buddies. The trooper and his family were at Reay’s wedding.

“He was a very smart guy with a wacky sense of humor. He also had a tremendous sense of decency and integrity,” Reay said.

The trooper was someone who treated everyone — judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, friends, the person at the Jack in the Box drive-through window, people he arrested — with the same degree of respect, Reay said.

“He set an example for every law enforcement officer and everyone else. Sean was a great trooper, but he was an even better friend.”

Gov. Jay Inslee said that on the night of the accident, he called the hospital in Skagit County for word on the trooper’s condition. The nurse who answered told him they all loved O’Connell, and the governor needed to make sure people knew “what he meant to her and to her community,” Inslee said.

Lovick said he was proud that O’Connell was his friend. He told the crowd about a visit the trooper made to his office two weeks ago.

“‘Sarge, it’s Sean. I’m downstairs. I’m coming right up,’” Lovick recalled O’Connell saying over the phone.

The trooper walked into the office, wearing a big grin. And he did what he was known to do.

He kissed the top of Lovick’s bald head. That wacky sense of humor.

Lovick told O’Connell’s wife that on the night of the accident he didn’t know what to say. On Thursday, he thanked her for the friendship and support she showed her husband.

He told the children that their father helped him become a better man. He told them how devoted he was to them.

A slideshow of family photos captured a father’s pride and love. In image after image, O’Connell was shown holding his children — at home, at parks, outdoors.

As the ceremony neared its conclusion, a bell rang out 21 times, an indoor version of the 21-gun salute.

As the bell rang, troopers knelt in front of O’Connell’s casket.

A set of officers carefully folded the American flag into a triangle.

Batiste presented it to Alissa O’Connell, hugging her. He bowed his head and spoke for a moment, his words inaudible.

He took her arm as her law enforcement family led her and the children out of the arena, their life without Sean already begun.

Diana Hefley, 425-339-3463, hefley@heraldnet.com.

Donations accepted

People can donate to the O’Connell family through the Washington State Patrol Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 7544, Olympia, WA 98507. The family is asking those who want to send flowers to instead donate to the Behind The Badge Foundation or the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

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