Hundreds mourn officer killed in hit-and-run

Darron Cummings/Associated Press
Gavin Phillips was comforted by family members Tuesday while he stood at the casket of his father and police officer, William Phillips, during a memorial service in Greenfield.

By The Associated Press

GREENFIELD — Nearly 1,000 people gathered Tuesday at the funeral for a bicycle patrol officer who was killed in a hit-and-run collision — packing a school gymnasium to hear stories about the former Marine and father of two on what would have been his 33rd birthday.

Among those who filled the Greenfield-Central High School gym to pay tribute to William Phillips were many of his fellow officers and Marines. After the ceremony, Phillips’ wife and two young sons stood next to the casket, where the boys kissed their father’s forehead.

Greenfield Police Chief John Jester said that when he first met Phillips, he was struck by the neatness and habits Phillips acquired as a Marine. But, he said, “As Will spoke about his sons, I got to see a Marine and a police officer with a soft and gentle heart.”
Pastor Adam Detamore of Realife Church in Greenfield described Phillips as a man with a mission in life.

“He wasn’t a police officer for the power — he did it because it was his calling,” said Detamore.

Members of the Indiana Patriot Guard motorcycle group held U.S. flags and lined the sidewalks outside. Hundreds of patrol cars, motorcycles and bicycles also were parked outside the gym.

“He served his country and he served his community and he deserves honor and respect. It’s what we’re out here to do for him, to show his family people care,” said senior ride captain Don Crose.

Phillips died early Thursday during a nighttime training ride with two other officers along U.S. 40 about 25 miles east of Indianapolis. The Indianapolis nurse who struck him, Sue Ann Vanderbeck, surrendered to police Monday.

Vanderbeck, 61, posted a $10,000 bond and was released from the Henry County Jail in New Castle after her arrest. She told investigators she was distracted by a child in her van before the collision.

Vanderbeck, a critical care nurse, is charged with leaving the scene of an accident causing death, said Greenfield Police Maj. Derek Towle. The felony charge carries a standard four-year prison term.

Vanderbeck’s attorney, Steven Litz, told The Indianapolis Star she didn’t turn herself in earlier because no criminal charges had been filed.

Indiana State Police said Vanderbeck was driving home from her late mother’s house in Cambridge City at the time of the accident. She said she was talking with her 4-year-old son and trying to keep him from waking up 15-month-old twins who were sleeping.

Vanderbeck told investigators she realized she had struck something, possibly a bicycle or motorcycle.

“They were just right there in front of me,” she told police. “I thought I was going to miss him, and then I just bumped him and I went on down the road.”

She said she didn’t see flashing red lights on the bikes or the riders’ reflective safety gear.

Litz said his client had no time to react.

“She had absolutely no warning whatsoever,” he said.

He questioned police claims the officers were wearing reflective gear.

“Whatever warning equipment they had on, it didn’t warn Susie in enough time,” he said.
Litz said Vanderbeck wasn’t thinking clearly enough to consider using her nursing skills to help whomever she hit.

Vanderbeck said in the court documents that she looked for a place to turn around but then saw a police car headed toward her and the scene of the accident and knew help was on the way. Because of the young children in her van, she said, she decided to continue home. Upon learning the news of Phillips’ death, she called Litz.

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