Honor ‘bittersweet’ for cops
Slain officer's comrades cited for role in Montrose standoff
MONTROSE — No honorary medal can fill the void after the loss of a police officer killed in the line of duty.
But the actions of many men and women in the aftermath of the shooting that cost Montrose police Sgt. David Kinterknecht his life deserved recognition. That’s why they were brought to the Montrose Pavilion on Wednesday for a special program.
The Montrose Police Department wanted to honor the dozens of officers, firefighters and emergency medical staff who responded to a fatal shooting at the home of Dennis and Pamela Gurney the night of July 25, 2009.
Gurney had barricaded himself in a garage behind his home when several officers arrived, and he shot three of them with a 12-gauge shotgun when they entered the garage to make the arrest.
Killed in an exchange of gunfire was 10-year Montrose police veteran Kinterknecht, and wounded were officers Rodney Ragsdale and Larry Witte. Gurney committed suicide.
“It’s bittersweet. You can’t put a price on losing somebody,” Ragsdale said of Wednesday’s ceremony.
Ragsdale sat next to Witte and the Kinterknecht family during the ceremony, which honored the two officers with the department’s highest merit, the medal of honor. Both men also received the purple heart for their injuries.
“Everybody who was there that night will become a better officer, a better person,” said Witte, who was shot twice.
He said he is pleased with his recovery, adding, “My strength is coming back.”
Witte said he plans to return to duty April 1, and although his memories of the night 221 days ago remain vivid, the support of his family and brotherhood of his fellow officers has helped him stay strong.
“I saw the gun as he pointed at me,” Witte remembered of July 25. “I remember laying on the garage floor after being shot for the second time, trying to fight him (Gurney) off ... I was just trying to get out of the garage alive.”
Before the awards were given, Montrose Police Chief Tom Chinn gave an emotional remembrance of officer Larry McMasters, the Montrose police officer killed in 1983 while responding to a disturbance at a local bar. McMasters had been the last Montrose officer killed in the line of duty until Kinterknecht.
“Police officers, by the very nature of the work, spend a lot of time training for a critical incident and, in more cases than not, are never in a shootout of any kind and retire without ever firing a round,” Chinn said in his address.
Also receiving awards were members of the Montrose Memorial Hospital staff for their service in treating the wounded officers. Members of the Montrose Fire Department and regional dispatch office also received police merit citations.
Officer Abby Leiba was awarded the distinguished service cross for her actions in administering CPR to Kinterknecht following the shooting. Officer Josh Pollert was a given the same award for administering first aid to the injuries of Ragsdale and Witte. Medals of valor were given to officers Bernie Chism, Robbie Satterly and Montrose County Sheriff’s Department deputies Matt Taramarcaz and Ben Halsey for their assistance that night.
Following the short ceremony, dozens of officers and family lined up to shake hands and hug Ragsdale and Witte.
Ragsdale, suffering from nerve damage from his injuries, is slated for more surgery to complete his recovery. He wants to return to duty this July 25, one year after the shootout.
“I just hurt for her,” Ragsdale said of David Kinterknecht’s wife, Kathy, who stood on stage with their daughters Andrea and Amanda during the ceremony in front of a standing salute from Montrose area firefighters, deputies and family.
Ragsdale, who credits his survival to the protection of God, was approached shortly after the ceremony by his 5-year-old grandson, Tristen. Ragsdale bent over to show Tristen his two medals.
“Did you fight twice?” Tristen asked.
“No,” Ragsdale replied, “only once.”
“You need to be more careful with the bad guys,” Tristen said.
“OK,” Ragsdale said.