Wednesday, April 30, 2003
A police officer can expect to make thousands of traffic stops during his career. But as the tragic events of early Tuesday morning in Youngstown have shown, such stops are never routine.
One in a million turns deadly. In a split second, a life is snuffed out.
Tuesday, that life belonged to Michael Hartzell, a 26-year-old Youngstown police officer. Today, a community mourns its loss.
And by any account, it is a heavy loss.
Hartzell had been serving as a member of the safety forces since he was just 18 years old, when he became a Canfield volunteer fireman. He was a trained emergency medical technician and was an auxiliary policeman in Austintown before being sworn in as a Youngstown police officer just 27 months ago.
It can be expected that people who knew a fallen officer will say only the best about them at a time such as this, but the expressions of admiration voiced by those who knew him at Austintown High School, the Cardinal Joint Fire District and the YPD were remarkably consistent. This was a young man who lived to serve, and in his short life he touched as many lives as most people who live their allotment of three score and 10.
Calculated and brutal
Details remain sketchy, but initial reports paint a picture of the cold-blooded murder of a police officer, performed so quickly that Hartzell didn't have a chance to defend himself.
Witnesses told police that after Hartzell made what appeared to be a traffic stop, the driver of the car got out, sprinted toward the cruiser and fired two shots directly into the policeman.
The driver, it would seem, made a decision at some time after he saw the flashing lights in his rearview mirror that he was not going to subject himself to arrest. Whatever his reasons may have been, his actions were obviously calculated.
That level of calculation makes the killer of Michael Hartzell a very dangerous fugitive and it justifies the unprecedented show of force by area police departments conducting the search for him.
Police are looking for an ex-convict, Martin Koliser Jr., for questioning in the slaying of Hartzell. Koliser has been charged in connection with a barroom shooting Monday night. Koliser would be wise to surrender. Those who know and care about him would do well to cooperate in bringing him into custody in a peaceful manner.
The community will be able to rest easier when the wheels of justice begin to move forward.
In the meantime, nothing can totally console those who loved Michael Hartzell. But they can take some comfort in the fond memories that those who knew him hold in their hearts and have shared. They can hear and see a thousand testaments from people whose lives he touched. And they can know that his brother and sister officers will honor his name for as long as there is a Youngstown Police Department.
All of that is not enough, but it is more than many have.