By John Batiste, Chief, Washington State Patrol
|Trooper Tony Radulescu|
In our business, “almost” is almost never good enough.
lmost everything went right early on the morning of February 23, 2012. Shortly before 1:00 a.m. that day, Washington State Patrol Trooper Tony Radulescu made a traffic stop in the small community of Gorst, Washington.
Gorst is a crossroads in Kitsap County, almost directly across Puget Sound from Seattle. It is a mostly military community and is generally supportive of law enforcement. By the standards of a state trooper, Gorst is not a remote location. Two heavily travelled state routes converge at that point. If Tony needed backup, it would be close by.
The stop was made safely—in a place where there was plenty of room to pull off the road. Visibility for approaching drivers was good. The two lanes of travel would give drivers plenty of room to move left as required by Washington law.
Tony followed procedure by radioing in the license number, and the dispatcher immediately ran it for stolen vehicles. Our CAD (computer-aided dispatch) system began tracking the minutes until it would be time to check on Tony if he had not been heard from.
For extra safety, Tony approached the vehicle from the passenger side and made contact with the occupants.
At this point, readers need to know a little about the man we called “Trooper Tony.” Tony introduced himself that way as a gift to those who could not pronounce his last name, Radulescu. His family moved to the United States when Tony was 14. He graduated from high school; served honorably in the U.S. Army; and, then, became a state trooper.
And he was a trooper who could talk to anybody. We all know those “silver-tongued devils” who can put a bank president or a drug addict at ease. There is no better skill that a police officer can possess. But Tony was much more than that. Fluent in five languages, he was a trooper who in the most literal sense really could talk to anybody.
His favorite conversations were with kids at school presentations. He did many of those.
Tony’s other favorite conversations were with aggressive drivers, as part of our Aggressive Driver Apprehension Team. Many times those conversations were accompanied by citations, but, just as often, Tony would talk to errant drivers and educate them. His ability to communicate with others made him one of our most effective troopers.
None of that would matter on the night in question.
We do not know as much as we would like to know about Tony’s last traffic stop. We do know that it was initiated safely, in a good location, by a trooper who had excellent verbal skills. But sometimes things just happen too fast.
Our dispatcher was on the ball. A short time after the stop, she did the required check of Tony’s status. No answer. She notified other troopers and went so far as to contact the local sheriff’s office. A deputy sheriff found Tony on the ground, mortally wounded by a single gunshot wound to the head. Tony would later die at a local hospital.
Our quest for justice began with only a license plate number. That number provided a make and model, which was quickly broadcast to both local law enforcement and the public. We began a diligent search for the registered owner, but stopped short of calling him a suspect. He could have loaned the vehicle, sold it, or even been a victim himself.
Detectives learned the registered owner did have a criminal record and began contacting his friends. We later learned that several of those friends had lied for him, and they ultimately served jail time as a result. As more became known about the registered owner, it became clear that he was Tony’s killer. A possible hideout was determined, and the suspect was spotted there. He committed suicide as a Kitsap County SWAT team made its approach.
Of the three people involved in the contact, two of them are now deceased. The only information we will ever get about the stop would have to come from the one survivor: the woman in the passenger seat. She would not be the most reliable of witnesses, with drug problems of her own and facing criminal charges for also initially misleading detectives.
Her story, which we eventually came to believe, is that the gun was tucked beside the center console between the two bucket seats. The passenger leaned forward to get in the glove box for the registration and proof of insurance. The driver told her to “lean back,” and when she did, he brought the gun up in front of her. The gun was right in front of her face when it fired.
The time involved was a split second, and we don’t know where Tony was looking at that moment. Was he watching the driver’s hands? Were they screened from view by the leaning passenger? Was Tony watching her hands as she reached for the glove box? Did a passing vehicle get his attention? Did he simply have a momentary lapse of concentration, something that could happen to any of us?
All we know for certain is that Tony was an excellent trooper, and everything about this traffic stop was executed well. The location, the radio call, the approach—all were done following both standard procedure and good common sense.
And despite that, our friend is dead.
We do know that Tony never got a chance to use the best tool he possessed: his tongue. He barely had time to ask for the driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance.
What might have happened had a little more time passed? As he had done so many times before, would Tony have connected with this traffic violator? Would someone who was about to kill start to like Tony and not pull the gun?
We do not know, and we never will.
The message I have sent to my troopers—and that I hope you will send to yours—is that in this business “almost” is almost never good enough. We have to do everything right, every single time, on every citizen contact.
One of the things we must always do is “watch the hands.” It is an old lesson, and, in this case, it might have been difficult for one trooper to watch four hands. But the concept is still worth mentioning.
This traffic stop is also notable for what did not happen. Tony did not get a chance to turn on his charm and build a rapport with the driver. That was not Tony’s fault because the attack happened so early in the contact.
We will never know if that might have made a difference, but we still need to remind our officers that respectful treatment of citizens counts as an officer-safety technique. The violator you cited yesterday might be driving by just as you’re attacked today. The violator you’re treating respectfully right now might hesitate before pulling a gun out of the center console.
There is no downside to respectful treatment. There is no training commitment and no dollar cost. Being respectful does not require letting your guard down. You can still speak kindly to someone while watching their hands.
I am unsure of what Tony could have done to change the outcome of this attack. It just happened too quickly. I do confess to wondering if this situation might have ended differently had there been enough time for Tony to build even the smallest rapport with his killer.
For all that we don’t know, there is one thing I do know, and it has nothing to do with the traffic stop itself.
Washington State Patrol Trooper Tony Radulescu, Badge #557, originally came to the United States in search of a better life. Once here, he made life better for all of those around him. America got the far better end of that deal.
We miss him terribly. ♦
Please cite as:
John Batiste, "The Loss of Trooper Tony Radulescu," The Police Chief 80 (May 2013): 22–23.