Sacramento Police Officer Michael David Gartrell loved the moment when he could turn on the overhead lights and do what he was paid to do: catch the bad guy.
But Gartrell, who was killed during a pursuit on April 25, 1991, was more than a cop who loved the chase. He was eulogized as a sensitive, funny, and hard-working person.
“He loved his job, the department, the chase,” said fellow Officer Steve Kiehn. “No matter what, he felt he was going to catch that guy. But what he loved more was his family,” he said.
For more than an hour, 450 police and 200 family and friends took time to remember Gartrell.
He was remembered as a diligent officer, a teller of corny jokes, a rider of Harley’s. and a sentimentalist who never forgot birthdays.
Gartrell, 37, died instantly when his patrol car smashed into a concrete abutment during a pursuit of a suspected drunk driver.
The 20-year-old driver of the fleeing car was arrested and charged with murder, felony drunk driving, evading arrest, and being under the influence of a controlled substance.
Gartrell apparently attempted to pull the driver over in a routine traffic stop as the suspect drove out of an apartment complex without his headlights on. Instead the driver sped away. “From the time he started the pursuit and put out the call, we’re only talking seconds. Probably within a minute, he was in the collision,” CHP spokesman Rick Sullivan said. Gartrell’s pursuit covered less than a mile.
Two responding Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department units took over. One stopped at the accident scene, and the other kept after the suspect, who authorities say took a dizzying spin up and down several nearby streets.
The chase ended when the driver lost control of his car and smashed into a pole. The pursuing deputy then rammed his patrol car into the Cutlass to prevent the driver from fleeing, he said.
In a scene that has become familiar at the funerals for officers who die in the line of duty, there was a sea of blue and green. Officers from a dozen jurisdictions filed by his casket.
But before they paid their last respects, buddies from his department spoke about the likable nature of Gartrell, who was an officer in Hawaii before moving to Sacramento.
Although he had the opportunity to leave the graveyard shift, he preferred to stay. Being home during the day allowed him to help his stepdaughter Dana Austin with school projects. He also wanted Sundays off to ride motorcycles with his wife, Bethany. “He was thrilled to have a wife that rode a Harley,” said Kiehn.
Kiehn said that It was in Gartrell’s nature to give, even though at times “he presented this rough-and-tough image of a macho cop.”
Sacramento Police Officer Steve Reese said Gartrell did not shun difficult or dangerous work. “On that morning, he could have let that car go,” Reese told the crowd, which included Mayor Anne Rudin and Councilman Joe Serna. “He could have closed his eyes. But he was not like that. He was a professional.”
Sgt. Larry Chavez recalled that Gartrell worked for him when he first came to Sacramento: “He was not only a hard-working officer, he had a great sense of humor. Very reliable and absolutely trustworthy.”
Chavez said that Gartrell was especially good at calming down domestic quarrels and neighborhood fights. “He dealt with conflict really well. He helped iron things out.”
Gartrell had been employed by the Sacramento Police Department since Oct. 9, 1985, when he was hired as a reserve officer. He was appointed as a community service officer on Sept. 12, 1987, and was promoted to police officer on April 16, 1988.