COWLITZ INDIAN RESERVATION — Some of Kylie DaCunha’s earliest memories of her dad, slain Vancouver police Officer Donald Sahota, are of him working as a police officer. Late-night call-outs were not uncommon in their household.
“Though the sacrifice of time with my father was hard to understand back then, I am so proud today of the career he had and the amount of good he did,” she said, acknowledging his ultimate sacrifice.
“He was a protector through and through, for me and everyone else,” she said.
DaCunha, her husband, Devin, and brother Colton Sahota shared their fondest memories of their dad during a public memorial service Tuesday at ilani’s Cowlitz Ballroom. A second viewing space was set up at a Vancouver church.
Outside of work, DaCunha said her dad spent his time outdoors — cleaning up trash, saving baby rabbits and birds, and teaching her how to fish.
Colton Sahota said he’ll miss the late nights spent together in his dad’s shop.
“He was an excellent handyman,” he said of his dad. “I sincerely believe that if given enough time and proper equipment, he could fix anything.
“Dad, you will forever have a place in my memories but, most importantly, in my heart.”
Donald Sahota, 52, was mistakenly shot at his home near Battle Ground by a Clark County sheriff’s deputy during a manhunt for a robbery suspect the night of Jan. 29. The shooting remains under investigation.
Deputies were pursuing the robbery suspect from Orchards to Battle Ground, before the man ran from his immobilized car to Sahota’s house.
Sahota, who was off duty, struggled with the suspect in his driveway, was stabbed three times and was pursuing him toward his house when he was shot.
A procession of emergency responders, red and blue lights flashing in the fog, started at about 10:30 a.m. at Crossroads Community Church on Northeast 78th Street and headed toward ilani casino where the service began at 1 p.m.
A small crowd gathered on the Pioneer Street overpass in Ridgefield to wait for the processional to pass. Drivers passing on Interstate 5 honked at the people, who flew several U.S. flags and Blue Lives Matter flags. A Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue truck parked behind the people on the overpass.
Tricia Davis of Battle Ground brought her flags to the overpass to honor the officer she said she’d had the pleasure of meeting. She described Sahota as a “wonderful, gracious man.”
Although she knows many of those who lined the freeway overpasses on the chilly morning didn’t know the Sahota family personally, she said it’s nice to see the community come together for them.
“It’s the least I could do,” she said.
The sun broke through the clouds in time for Sahota’s motorcade and the single-file line of as many as 400 law enforcement and emergency vehicles to pass the Pioneer Street overpass around 11 a.m.
As Dale Lowrie shielded his eyes from the rays, he noted, “the sun is shining for him.”
Lowrie and his wife, Carol, recalled their family members and friends in law enforcement, as they paid their respects to the Sahota family from the overpass.
Emergency vehicles — police cars, ambulances and fire trucks from all over the Northwest — and residents parked all along the route. Some watched from cars; others stood on the side of the road waving flags as the procession passed. As it passed underneath the Pioneer Street overpass, fire crews stood at attention atop a fire engine.
Jannette Huber, a volunteer with the Ridgefield Police Department, said the procession and memorial ceremony can help the public process their own grief over the loss of a fellow community member.
“It gives you a place to put it all,” she said of the emotions many felt Tuesday morning. “It hits you, just as a person.”
Escorted by officers, the hearse slowly rolled toward its destination as bagpipes played in the background. It passed beneath a large garrison flag, held aloft by fire engines. A horse with no rider, symbolic of a fallen soldier, led the procession.
Sahota’s flag-draped casket was then escorted into ilani, followed by his family.
Although Sahota was off duty when he was killed, Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain has said the shooting was the department’s first line-of-duty death since the agency’s inception in 1883.
“I’m truly devastated by the loss of Don. I have no words to fill the void that he has left behind, other than I am so sorry for our loss,” McElvain said during the memorial service.
McElvain said Sahota’s mother shared that her son wanted to be a police officer since he was a little boy; he just wanted to help people.
“Don was a helper. To borrow a quote from Mr. Rogers, he stated, ‘When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ While the situations might not always have been scary, Don was always there helping,” McElvain said.
Sahota was the third officer McElvain hired, just months after the chief joined the department, he said.
“Being a police officer means sacrifice and time away from family to serve others,” McElvain said. “Don dedicated nearly 28 years of his life to law enforcement. And for that, we are forever grateful.”
Sahota joined the Vancouver Police Department in April 2014. He worked in patrol, served as an emergency vehicle operations instructor and an armorer, and was most recently assigned to the training unit, according to the department. Sahota started his law enforcement career in February 1994 with the Gresham, Ore., Police Department, where he served for 17 years before joining the Port of Portland Police Department.
His friends, both civilian and in law enforcement, described Sahota as genuine, selfless, a thinker and a doer, a man’s man and a family man.
Vancouver police Detective Shane Hall, who met Sahota before they worked together, said he “trusted and respected him from the beginning.”
“There are a lot of different types of friends in life: the fun friend, the listener, the wise one, the loyal one,” Hall said. “Don was the one who made me want to be a better person. There was a piece of his generosity that I took with me each time that we spoke. His kindness inspired me to change a little with each visit.”
Robin Brown, a former Vancouver police officer, said she and Sahota once worked patrol together and, later, in the training unit.
“It was awesome to have him as a beat partner. When I was new, he had so much experience and wisdom to offer,” she said.
She described the job as a calling for Sahota.
“We know Don always answered that calling — even at the very end,” she said.