Archive for Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Police remember friend, colleague

August 20, 2003

Mike Vestal calls police and medical services to scenes regularly.

But at 6:15 a.m. Saturday, the Tonganoxie dispatcher directed personnel to a residence that's all too familiar.

Acting Tonganoxie police chief Mark Williams suffered a heart attack that morning and later died at Providence Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan. Williams was 44.

"It's still hard to believe," Vestal said. "It's just been a daze the last couple days.

"He's really going to be missed."

Vestal, who lives along U.S. Highway 24-40, placed a sign in his yard paying tribute to Williams.

On one side, the sign reads: "Thanks 605 for your service and protection. We will miss you."

On the reverse side, the sign reads: "We will miss you Mark."

Vestal wanted to pay tribute to his friend, whose call number was 605.

"It was kind of in memory of Mark," Vestal said. "Just kind of a goodbye."

Williams' family has had struggles with heart disease -- Mark's father died at age 58, Vestal said, while his grandfather also died from heart complications at an early age.

Williams joined the Tonganoxie force on Feb. 24, 1993. He previously worked as a campus police officer at Wichita State University.

In his spare time, Williams enjoyed four-wheeling and camping.

"I know they went to the lake periodically," said Sgt. John Putthoff.

Since Saturday, Putthoff said the mood at the police department has been one of disbelief.

"It was a big surprise and a shock and kind of one of those things that when it hits home, you're kind of trying to deal with it," Putthoff said. "People got the call. It was like 'not Mark.'"

Described as well-liked and a "good old guy" by Putthoff, Vestal echoed those words.

"He was just a good all-around guy and friendly to everybody," Vestal said. "He was a good friend you could talk to."

Basehor Police and Stranger and Fairmount townships covered Monday for Tonganoxie police and fire departments.

Without an acting chief, the department will have to make a decision in the coming days on who will succeed Williams. But it's too early to think about that.

"The department functions will be discussed at a later date and information will be available within a couple weeks," Putthoff said. "Due to respect, we don't want to go into who's going to do what and position-filling."

Police chief Ken Carpenter, who earlier this year was called to active duty, is expected to return to work with the department on Sept. 22.

In tribute to Williams, flags at city buildings flew at half-staff.

Williams' funeral was Tuesday afternoon at Victory Baptist Church, and burial was in Chapel Hill Cemetery, Kansas City, Kan.

In a touching display, fire trucks and ambulances dotted the medians of U.S. Highway 24-40 following the funeral, as firefighters and others said goodbye to Williams.

Dozens of police and sheriff's cars also drove in the procession to the cemetery.

At 4:10 p.m., the last call for Williams came over the radio.

"May you be guided in your journey, and may you rest in peace," the dispatcher said.

His obituary appears on page 2A of today's edition of The Mirror.

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