Jeremy Bitner loved being a cop, but he could never forget his military background, Englewood Police Chief John Collins said Tuesday at a news conference to announce that the 39- year-old officer died in the line of duty. "I love Jeremy. He was a class act, and former military," Collins said. "Jeremy would never call me by my first name, even though I asked."
About 12:05 a.m. Monday, Bitner was talking to a 20-year-old man he had pulled over on South Broadway near East Belleview Avenue when an SUV driven by a suspected drunken driver slammed into both of them and took off. The suspect, grocery store worker Conner Donahue, 20, is being held on $100,000 bail. Donahue left the scene but was followed by a witness and was soon arrested by Littleton police.
Bitner died shortly after he was hit, but Englewood police waited until Tuesday afternoon to announce his death. "We wanted to give the family some space and some time for recovery," said Collins, who asked TV reporters to stop airing broadcasts outside Bitner's home out of respect to the family. Collins wasn't sure, but Bitner is believed to be the first Englewood officer killed in the line of duty. "Officer Bitner loved his job," Collins said. "He served his country and the city of Englewood with honor."
An Army veteran, Bitner served in the Airborne Infantry during the Bosnian war in the 1990s. He is survived by his wife, Christina, and two children, ages 9 and 7. Bitner became an Englewood officer Dec. 6, 2004. Before that, he served six months as an Elbert County sheriff's deputy.
On two occasions, Bitner faced down armed suspects to make an arrest, earning medals for gallantry. He also was a SWAT officer, field training officer, voice-stress examiner and an instructor in the department's Citizens Academy, among other achievements and duties, Collins said.
Collins said it was a difficult time for the department of about 70 people. Englewood, located in the south-metro area, has a population of about 30,000. "We always liken ourselves to a family - a family that serves our city," Collins said. "And anytime we lose a member of our family, especially in this situation, it's nothing less than heartbreaking."
The man Bitner pulled over, Kevin Montoya, was released from Swedish Medical Center late Tuesday. Montoya said he remembers Bitner asking him to stand with him and the officer telling him that he had "swerved a little bit." He never saw the SUV coming. "I thank the Lord for sparing me, you know?" he told the television station. "So maybe other people learn about this. Whatever you do, don't drink and drive." He said he hoped Donohue "learns a life lesson from this."
Funeral Services for Officer Bitner will be held at 1 p.m. Friday, June 1, at the Denver First Church of the Nazarene, 3800 East Hampden. At 3 p.m., after the funeral concludes, a police procession will travel to Fort Logan Cemetery. In addition, a memorial fund has been established for the Bitner family.
Those who wish to donate to the fund can do so at the Belcro Credit Union or any Public Service Credit Union branch. Donations can also be mailed to: The Belco Credit Union c/o Officer Jeremy Bitner Memorial Fund P.O. Box 17000 Denver, CO. 80217-7000 The account number is 591654637.
On average, one law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty somewhere in the United States every 53 hours. On average, two law enforcement officers are assulated every hour resulting in serious injury.Over the past 10 years, over 1,900 law enforcement officers have paid the ultimate sacrifice and were killed serving the citizens of their community. Officer Bitner jojns Officer Officer Bitner joins that band of brothers.