“Without a doubt, this is the worst day in the history of the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department”, is the way Sheriff Lou Blanas described the tragic event on July 13 that took the lives of two of his veteran, most respected deputies. Joseph Michael Kievernagel and Kevin Patrick Blount. The Department had never lost two officers in the Line of Duty in the same year, so to lose two officers the same day, in the same tragic incident, was especially traumatic and appalling.
The Departmental Citation that awarded the “Purple Heart”, posthumously to Deputies Kievernagel and Blount appropriately describes the tragic incident that took the two deputies lives, “on Wednesday evening, July 13, 2005, Deputies Joseph Kievernagel, Kevin Blount and Eric Henrikson took off from Mather Air Field in Star 6, one of the Sheriff’s Department’s EC-120 American Eurocopters. Joe was piloting the ship and Kevin was in the Observer seat. Eric, who was training as an Observer, was in the rear seat. Their mission, as always, was to assist ground units who were patrolling the streets of Sacramento.
Sacramento was experiencing one of its historically hot summer evenings. This could either be good or bad for law enforcement. It could remain quiet or tempers and drinking could erupt into an incident that could turn the night into an ugly scene for officers in the air and on the ground. The helicopter would be there leading the way. This is something they are always prepared for. This is the type of incident that makes our helicopter personnel so valuable. They are truly our eyes in the sky. They can see the big picture, evaluate the situation and report to fellow officers responding on the ground.
This evening, July 13th, Joe was flying over the Lake Natoma recreation area after they had responded to a routine burglary call at a Folsom business. The lake and surrounding beaches were filled with people trying to get relief from the sweltering heat. Pilot and crew were checking to make sure everything looked safe on the waterway before they continued to patrol. What happened next will be in the minds and hearts of the men and women of the Sheriff’s Department forever. Star 6 went down. Witnesses claimed to have heard a loud popping sound and seeing flames shooting from the rear of the helicopter. Some of the observers on the ground said that it seemed that the pilot was trying desperately to steady the ship. Minutes later the helicopter crashed into the hillside. Deputies Joe Kievernagel and Kevin Blount lost their lives in the crash. Deputy Eric Henrikson was critically injured. Joe and Kevin, longtime friends, dedicated to the art of flying and protection of this community were taken from us within moments. Beat partners while assigned to Patrol, they were described as teacher, pupil, and friend. Two guys who had achieved their ultimate career goal—working the skies over Sacramento, helping their fellow officers on the ground. Both officers were highly regarded for their professionalism and expertise in the law enforcement profession they both loved.
Catastrophic engine failure brought down Star 6. We know Joe and Kevin did everything in their power to land that helicopter safely, away from the crowds of people gathered at the lake. “They truly are and will remain our heroes in the sky. They cannot be replaced. They can only be remembered….and remember we will”.
The third deputy on board the helicopter, Eric Henrikson, remains in critical condition at the Mercy San Juan Medical Center.
Joe Kievernagel and Kevin Blount had dissimilar personalities, but were best friends and very close. So close, that fellow deputies often referred to them as “Bat Man and Robin”.
Under Sheriff John McGinness, a friend of both deputies, had flown with Deputy Kievernagel on numerous occasions and described him as “an outstanding pilot, the best you can get”. Reaching out to grieving members of his Department McGinness observed “If you look for solace, know that these were men who had absolutely found an opportunity to provide noble service in an environment where they had a passion that few others anywhere have a chance to enjoy”. Both deputies repeatedly indicated that their long term goal was to work together as a team, never leaving their beloved helicopter. Without prompting, Kevin Blount would inform family and friends, “I can’t believe that they pay me to do this job I love so much”. Joe Kievernagel, without hesitation, would concur.
In the days following the untimely deaths of the two “heroes in the sky” there was an outpouring of devotion and support never before witnessed in Sacramento County.
On the morning of July 20, several thousand uniformed peace officers representing a myriad of jurisdictions in California, the adjoining States, and from as far away as Hampshire, England, joined family members, friends and co-workers at the St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Rancho Cordova to pay their final respects to two of California’s finest. Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who has attended virtually all of the law enforcement funerals during his tenure, was once again in attendance offering condolences on behalf of the people of California. Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante and a number of local elected officials were also in attendance.
A miles-long caravan of more than 600 law enforcement vehicles escorted the two heroes from the church to their final rest. Along the route, the streets were crowded with mourners, waving or holding American Flags, hands over their hearts, or saluting as the procession passed.
Flags at the State Capitol and in Sacramento County were ordered to be flown at half staff in memoriam.
Deputy Kievernagel is survived by his wife Iris. Deputy Blount was not married and is survived by his father Thomas and mother Kathleen.