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Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014

Family of fallen officer Derek Johnson reflects on changes his death brought

By Jed Boal, Deseret News

Published: Sat, Aug. 30 12:15 p.m. MDT

 Shante Johnson listens with her son Bensen Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, as the family talks about her husband, Draper Police Sgt. Derek Johnson, as the one-year anniversary of his death nears.

Shante Johnson listens with her son Bensen Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, as the family talks about her husband, Draper Police Sgt. Derek Johnson, as the one-year anniversary of his death nears.

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

DRAPER — A year after Draper Police Sgt. Derek Johnson was shot and killed in the line of duty, his family is honoring his memory and the memory of all fallen officers.

As Shante Johnson flipped through photos and shared stories of her late husband, she also expressed amazement at how quickly one year has gone by and the profound changes it brought.

"You're always very prideful as a police wife,” she said, “but it does take on a new meaning of pride and of reality of how dangerous a simple call can be.”

Johnson said she met her husband when she was 12 years old and he was 13. The two had a very tight bond, she said. Then, on Sept. 1, 2013, her husband stopped to check on a car on the side of the road and everything changed.

Johnson was 10 minutes away from finishing his graveyard shift and just a couple of blocks from the Draper Police Station when he stopped to assist a vehicle involved in an apparent crash near 13200 S. Fort St.

The driver, a known drug user who had been using drugs prior to the shooting, ambushed Johnson and shot him through the open passenger window before the sergeant had time to react. He continued to shoot as Johnson attempted to drive away, and then shot his girlfriend in the back before turning the gun on himself.

The shooter, later identified as Timothy Troy Walker, pleaded guilty to aggravated murder in July and was sentenced to life in prison. His girlfriend, Traci Vaillancourt, also survived her injures. She has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Sept. 30 on charges of obstruction of justice.

"You just don't realize how often it happens until it happens to you,” Shante Johnson said, “then you realize how often it does occur.”

Every couple of days, an American police officer is killed. Since her husband’s death, Johnson said she’s heard from people across the country.

“Things like this affect so many people,” she said.

Derek Johnson’s parents and siblings said they were amazed by the showing at his funeral.

"It was beautiful,” said Desirae Payne, the fallen officer’s sister. “It was unbelievable and something I will always be grateful for.”

His father, Randy Johnson, said he now has a deeper understanding of the brotherhood his son was a part of, and he can see “what incredible people are out there, and the love they have for the community, and the love they have for their work.”

Through the trials and triumphs of this challenging year, the Johnsons have stayed positive, just like their fallen hero always was, and felt the love of prayers from strangers.

“It means a lot,” Shante Johnson said.

The Johnson family, Derek Johnson's police brotherhood and Draper officials will come together to remember his service and what his death has meant to the community. The public memorial is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at Draper Historical Park, 12625 S. 900 East.

On Sept. 13, the family will host the Fallen Officers Memorial 5K run at Corner Canyon High School, 12943 S. 700 East. Runners can register at www.fallenmemorialrun.com; all proceeds will go to the My Dad's a Hero Foundation.

Email: jboal@deseretnews.com

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