The death of Blaine County Undersheriff Pat Pyette last week saddened the Hi-Line like few other events in recent history.
Pyette was struck and killed by a passerby as he was directing traffic, routing people around a disabled vehicle. As he had done many times before, he was trying to ensure the safety of the driver of the disabled truck while allowing other motorists to get down U.S. Highway 2 as quickly and as safely as possible.
On the streets of communities along the Hi-Line you can hear people — those who knew Pyette and those who didn't — talk painfully about his loss.
In letters to the editor, in comments on blogs and in coffee shops, Pyette was praised for his dedication to the people of Blaine County. Like so many other officers, he has put in many hours chasing down criminals and catching people who committed terrible crimes. But most of his time was spent performing duties such as the one that killed him. He did things that made life a little bit easier for people of Blaine County and the Hi-Line.
It was heartwarming to see people pay tribute to Pyette as the hearse carrying his body returned from Benefis Hospital in Great Falls to his hometown of Chinook.
Along Highway 2 in Havre, people stood silently in tribute as the hearse, escorted by 10 police cars from agencies throughout north-central Montana, drove down the street. Some people stood in mournful silence. Others took their caps off and put their hands over their hearts.
We express out heartfelt condolences to the Pyette family and to Pat Pyette's many friends and associates in the Blaine County Sheriff's Department and elsewhere in county government.
And we express our sympathy to the fraternity of police officers throughout the Hi-Line and all of Montana who gathered at Chinook for the undersheriff's funeral Monday.
The tragedy is another reminder to police officers and their families that they put their lives at risk every time they go on duty.
Sometimes the risk is obvious, like when they are involved in a shooting incident or in a high-speed chase. Sometimes, they put their lives in danger by simply helping a disabled motorist.
If people want to pay tribute to Pat Pyette, the best way would be to stop police officers on the street to thank them for their service and for putting their lives on the line every time they go on duty.