A police cruiser draped in black banners and topped with a rose sat in front of the Jupiter, Florida, police department Monday morning, paying testament to a 20-year department veteran killed Sunday while helping escort President Barack Obama through Palm Beach County.
Officer Bruce St. Laurent, 55, was traveling with the presidential motorcade around 4:45 p.m. Sunday southbound on Interstate 95 through West Palm Beach when he pulled his motorcycle onto an on ramp, so he could stop traffic from accessing the highway, according to a statement released Monday by Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Teri Barbera.
The statement said St. Laurent drove into the path of a 1994 Ford F150 driven by Susan Holloway, 56, of West Palm Beach, as she was accelerating to merge onto the interstate. Holloway hit the brakes to avoid the crash, but she hit St. Laurent's motorcycle, knocking the officer from his motorcycle and trapping him under her pickup when the vehicles came to rest, the statement said.
Jupiter Police Chief Frank Kitzerow said St. Laurent was transported to nearby St. Mary's Medical Center, where he died Sunday.
Barbera told CNN the statement details preliminary findings, and the ongoing investigation "could take months." When the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Highway Patrol complete their investigation, state attorneys will determine whether any charges will be filed in the case.
CNN senior photojournalist Peter Morris, who was in the motorcade, said this presidential caravan was longer than normal. In addition to the standard package of SUVs, he said three buses, including the president's campaign bus, comprised Sunday's motorcade south through Florida. Morris said motorcycle police often act as escorts and handle intersection control for motorcades.
This is at least the fourth fatal accident in recent years involving motorcycles accompanying motorcades for presidents or presidential candidates.
In November 2006, three Honolulu motorcycle officers crashed on a rain-slicked road escorting President George W. Bush's motorcade. One of the officers died several days later from his injuries.
The following August, an Albuquerque police officer was killed in a crash as President Bush's motorcade arrived at the airport.
Then, in February 2008, a Dallas police officer was killed in a motorcycle crash during then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's motorcade.
Kitzerow visited St. Laurent's family Monday morning to discuss funeral services, and memorial information will be made public when it is finalized, Jupiter police spokesman Sgt. Scott Pascarella said Monday. He added that in addition to the squad car memorial in front of the Jupiter police station, radio station 103.1 WIRK Country was there, raising money for St. Laurent's family. The Jupiter Police Department was working on setting up an account at a local bank to gather money for the slain officer's family as well, Pascarella said.
St. Laurent was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1957, but moved to Jupiter in 1973, and had lived there ever since, according to a memorial statement on the town of Jupiter's website. He began his decorated career with the Jupiter Police Department in 1992. Three times, most recently in 2008, St. Laurent was named "Officer of the Quarter," and in 1996, he was selected as "Officer of the Year," according to the memorial.
The memorial also credited St. Laurent with contributing to his community in several ways, including playing Santa Claus at local holiday events, helping high school students with physics experiments and helping Habitat for Humanity build houses for the needy.
President Obama was notified of the death, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters after Air Force One landed Sunday night in Washington. Carney added that the president's thoughts and prayers were with the officer's family.
The crash happened near the front of the president's motorcade, and Obama did not see it, Carney said. The White House spokesman said no other vehicles from the motorcade were involved.
St. Laurent is survived by his wife of more than 30 years, Brenda, and four children, according to the memorial statement.