THREE FORKS (AP) — The residents of this small Montana town said they were saddened and shocked by the shooting death of one of their own Wednesday -- a Montana Highway Patrol trooper killed in the line of duty.
People here described David James DeLaittre, 23, as easygoing, friendly, caring and hardworking. He was even voted "most friendly" by his 2005 Three Forks High School classmates.
'...just a great kid'
"He was just a great kid," Ray Noble, Three Forks deputy city clerk, said Thursday. "A real professional. We're all sick about this."
DeLaittre was shot and killed Wednesday when he stopped to investigate a running pickup truck in the middle of Montana Highway 2 around 4:30 p.m. Officials said Thursday they believe the trooper and the truck driver, Errol Brent Bouldin, 56, of Three Forks, exchanged fire. A Three Forks police officer coming to DeLaittre's aid found the trooper dead by the side of the road.
100 officers helped in search
More than 100 law-enforcement officers searched for Bouldin for several hours Wednesday. He was found about 8:30 p.m. just south of Townsend dead in his pickup truck, ostensibly from gunshot wounds.
Nearly everyone who spoke with the Chronicle Thursday said he or she had known DeLaittre "since he was a little kid," holding a flat hand about 3 feet from the ground for emphasis.
"He was a very, very, very fine young man," Three Forks City Clerk Sharon Smith said. "He was a very special young man. It's just unreal. Why? He had his whole life ahead of him."
Noble said DeLaittre, a trooper for two years who was transferred from Chinook to Three Forks about a year ago, recently bought a house in Three Forks and planned to add a garage.
DeLaittre's father, Dennis DeLaittre, is a retired trooper, and his son wanted nothing more than to emulate the man he loved and respected, friends said. He attained that goal in 2008, and asked his dad to pin the badge on him at his swearing-in ceremony, according to the Association of Montana Troopers.
Always wanted to be a trooper
"He pursued his dream of becoming a trooper," said Three Forks Elementary School Principal Jerry Breen, who taught DeLaittre in fourth grade. "His dad was his hero and he wanted to do the same thing. I think everyone in Three Forks is proud of his accomplishments.
"I just remember he was a hard worker and very conscientious," he added.
Jay McCurry, DeLaittre's high school shop teacher and friend, said, "I was really proud of him when he went into patrol. It's not just a loss for Three Forks, it's a loss for the state of Montana."
He recalled DeLaittre's mechanical acuity, saying he sought out hands-on jobs during and after high school.
He liked a challenge
"If he could be turning a wrench, he was happy," he said. "He got all of my shop awards — welding, auto mechanics and woodworking. He was the type of student who always put everything forth. He liked a challenge."
For example, as a class project, DeLaittre helped with construction of a school concession stand, he said. "If it hadn't been for students like him, we'd never had gotten it done.
"This has been really hard. I was very fond of David. It's such a useless tragedy," McCurry said.
Mark Oelker was DeLaittre's boss at M&W Motors, where he worked during high school.
"He was a good kid," Oelker said. "He was always entertaining to have around. He was kind of a joker.
"My heart feels bad for his folks," he added. "It was senseless."
DeLaittre was also remembered as being reliably helpful and friendly.
Steve Hamilton, DeLaittre's high school science teacher, rode along with the young trooper in October.
"The way he treated people, he'd give them a ticket and they thanked him," he said. "He truly cared for people. He put other people first all the time."
"He was always there to help you," McCurry said. "He wouldn't even ask why."
And when DeLaittre came to visit, it wasn't a superficial five-minute sort of thing, Breen said. His visits could last an hour or two.
"David was a kid — you know how kids get when they get too old and don't want to talk" to adults, he said. "He was never like that. He would go out of his way to say hi. He was always respectful."
Breen said this was the fourth student from the class of 2005 to die. A few years ago, three of DeLaittre's classmates died in a car wreck.
"It's been a tough day," he said. "I lost another kid today. For this to happen here is just a tragedy. It's a sad day in Three Forks."
Montana Highway Patrol Cpl. Mike Tooley spoke of DeLaittre's selflessness.
He said he saw the trooper last weekend in Helena, where DeLaittre had gone to attend a friend's father's funeral on his day off — just to be there for his friend, he said. How many young people would get up early on a day off, put on a tie and drive that distance for a friend? Tooley asked.
"He was just a great kid," he said.
DeLaittre was one of the state's youngest troopers, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock said after a press conference Thursday.
"I think there are times in life where words are truly inadequate, and this is one of them," Bullock said. "That one of the patrol's young troopers, only 23 years old, should pay for his dedication to public service with his life is largely incomprehensible to me. The notion of it being so senseless and irreversible is largely incomprehensible.
"It's times like this, I think, that at least we get a glimpse of the risks that law-enforcement officers and their families take on their shoulders on behalf of all Montanans. And today that's a very heavy burden."
DeLaittre leaves behind his parents Dennis and Nancy DeLaittre, of Three Forks, two younger sisters and an adult stepsister.