Utah K-9 shot by fugitive corrections officer saved ‘countless’ lives, police say
Police K-9 Maya, a 6-year-old Belgain Malinois with the West Jordan Police Department, was fatally shot Thursday while pursuing a gunman who worked as a corrections officer in Utah. The shooter was later shot dead by police. (Western Jordan Police Department)
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WEST JORDAN — A decorated K-9 officer from the West Jordan Police Department was remembered as a hero on Friday.
“Last night she saved the lives of countless police officers,” West Jordan police officer Sam Winkler said.
As officers from multiple agencies chased after a gunman who had previously led police in three separate car chases on Thursday, Zachary Tyler Alvarenga fired multiple shots. Police K-9 Maya, a 6½-year-old Belgian Malinois who had been with the department since 2018, was beaten and killed.
Eight officers from three agencies – West Jordan, South Jordan and the Unified Police Department – returned fire, killing Alvarenga, 25, of West Jordan.
Alvarenga was an officer with the Utah Department of Corrections at the time of his death and worked at Utah State Prison, the department confirmed Friday. He had been working as a correctional officer since September.
“We extend our deepest condolences to everyone affected by the incident that occurred last night,” the department said in a prepared statement.
Thursday’s series of violent events began around 11 a.m. when police received a report that Alvarenga was holding a woman against her will at gunpoint. Winkler said Alvarenga and the woman “worked together at one point.” It was unclear as of Friday whether the woman was also a corrections worker.
The woman was able to escape and flee Alvarenga. Officers located him shortly thereafter in the Jordan Landing area near 7800 S. Bangerter Highway. When they approached him, however, he took off in his vehicle. The police stopped pursuing Alvarenga due to public safety concerns.
Police located Alvarenga for the second time shortly thereafter, and he again fled from officers, leading to a short chase that was again halted for public safety reasons, Winkler said.
“As officers continued to locate the suspect, investigators learned that the suspect had the ability to contact family members of the female party and threaten them with a weapon,” Winkler said.
Officers were then able to contact Alvarenga by phone and attempted to negotiate with him while keeping him under surveillance. However, a third car chase was quickly launched.
This time, police were able to nail the tires of Alvarenga’s vehicle near 11400 S. Redwood. At that point, Alvarenga got out of his disabled vehicle and drove through the Jordan Credit Union parking lot, 1750 W. 11400 South.
The police ran after him and released Maya to pursue him.
“While running away from the officers, Mr Alvarenga actually shot the officers and (police dog) Maya succumbed to gunshot wounds she sustained that night. Again, he is credited with credit for saving the lives of several officers at the scene who were in pursuit of Mr. Alvarenga,” Winkler said.
It was unclear on Friday whether Alvarenga was aiming for the dog or shooting randomly at the pursuing officers. Winkler said Maya was given a body armor, but due to how quickly the dynamic situation unfolded, officers didn’t have time to put it on.
“It was just too quick to put on his vest,” he said.
Winkler did not know on Friday where Maya was shot or if the vest would have prevented her death.
Maya was known statewide for her tracking and detection skills, he said. In the 2021 Utah Peace Officer Association K-9 trials, the West Jordan Police Department took first place, thanks in large part to Maya who walked away with numerous individual awards, he said. .
In addition to her police skills, Winkler said the cops just enjoy seeing Maya in the office every day and walking her over to each of them looking for “loves.”
“It becomes part of your family, whether it’s the owner’s dog who lives with that dog 24/7, or one of us who works with… Maya in the office and came in wanting love every day. It becomes a big part of our family and it’s a huge emotional waste for us,” he said.
On Friday, law enforcement across the state offered their condolences on social media.
“I wish continued strength to the West Jordan Police Department after one of their K-9s was killed in the line of duty. Today I spoke with Chief Wallentine to offer my support and my condolences on behalf of @slcpd,” Salt Lake City police said. Chef Mike Brown tweeted.
“Our hearts are broken for the loss of this hero. Our hearts go out to the West Jordan Police Department, and especially the handler and Maya’s family. RIP Maya,” the Unified Police tweeted.
“Our hearts break for our friends at the West Jordan Police Department and K9 Officer’s handler and companion Maya. Thank you for your service, Maya. We hope you run and play with all of your other four-legged friends . #RIP #policek9,” the Summit County Sheriff’s Office tweeted.
A The GoFundMe* campaign launched on Friday by the Jordan Credit Union to help the police department raise funds for another police dog.
Maya’s funeral will be on Monday, February 28. Winkler said the funeral would be for K-9 officers and dog handlers only. After the service, however, officers will take Maya on her final “patrol,” which will be a procession through the streets of West Jordan. Community members are encouraged to line the streets at this time to pay respect and honor Maya. The route of the procession will be revealed in the coming days.
West Valley Police will lead the investigation into the shooting involving an officer. Winkler said there is both body camera and dash cam video of the incident that will be reviewed.
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