A driver who sped through a DWI checkpoint struck a Riverhead Town police officer and then led police on a chase, resulting in a K-9 unit crashing and the dog in the vehicle being killed, according to a press release.
‘Rocky,’ a German shepherd who had been in service as a police dog since 2011, was killed in the crash when the officer’s vehicle left the roadway and struck a utility pole on the south side of West Main Street. The dog was ejected from the car during the collision, police said. The officer driving, K-9 officer John Morris, sustained injuries that were not life threatening, police said.
The tragedy unfolded early Sunday morning at a checkpoint on Peconic Avenue. The Suffolk County district attorney had announced Friday extra patrols and checkpoints over the holiday weekend as part of the East End DWI Task Force.
At approximately 2:30 a.m., a dark colored Audi sedan entered the checkpoint and was directed to stop. Officer Sean Mackie began to interview the driver who then sped off, striking the officer. Several Riverhead police cars began to chase the suspect and the pursuit was terminated in Manorville when it was deemed too dangerous, police said.
The K-9 unit had responded to assist police in the pursuit when the crash occurred on West Main Street. The police vehicle sustained heavy damage and ended up in a wooded area on the south side of the road. Both officers injured were treated by members of the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps and were transported to Peconic Bay Medical Center for treatment, police said.
Both officers were treated and released Sunday, Police Chief David Hegermiller said.
West Main Street remained closed for traffic between Mill Road and Raynor Avenue early Sunday as the investigation continues, police said. The Long Island Power Authority will also be on scene to repair damage, police said.
No arrest was reported and the driver who fled the checkpoint remains at large.
Chief Hegermiller said the incident is still under investigation and he could not comment on whether police had a license plate number of the vehicle that fled. He said he was with Mr. Morris this morning and said he was “holding up OK.”
“He was with the dog for a long time,” the chief said. “He was upset.”
Chief Hegermiller said he believed Rocky was 8 1/2 years old. With nearly seven years of experience on the job, Rocky was on the back end of his police career.
“Both our K-9 units are very beneficial to police work and to the town,” Chief Hegermiller said.
The police dogs spend at least eight hours working each day with their handler, who also care for them in off hours.
In August 2016, officers mourned the death of police dog Vaki, a German shepherd who died after contracting a neurological disease. In early 2017, the town purchased a new dog, Titan, to work in the K-9 unit in addition to Rocky.