Wash. sheriff seeks to honor 2 LEOs who died in line of duty

The Fallen Hero Project would establish roadside signs to honor Trooper Thomas Hendrickson and Deputy Alan Hultgren

Kera Wanielista
Skagit Valley Herald

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — Although they were born about a decade apart, State Patrol trooper Thomas Hendrickson and Skagit County Sheriff’s Office deputy Alan Hultgren had much in common: Both were young family men with a passion for their communities who dedicated themselves to law enforcement.

Just a few years into their respective careers, the lives of both men were cut short by suspected drunk drivers on Highway 20 — Hendrickson in 1974 at age 31 and Hultgren in 1981 at age 30.

“Both these men died doing what they loved to do,” Skagit County Sheriff Don McDermott said.

Spurred by former Skagit County Sheriff Gary Frazier and in partnership with the State Patrol, McDermott has launched the Fallen Hero Project, which seeks to honor the two law enforcement officers by renaming the sections of the highway on which they were killed.

“It’s a good opportunity not only for first responders but citizens to remember them,” McDermott said.

McDermott has sent a proposal to the state Transportation Commission to rename a part of the highway between Anacortes and Burlington in honor of Hendrickson, and a stretch between Concrete and Marblemount for Hultgren.

Thomas Leonard Hendrickson was born on July 24, 1943, in Warren, Pennsylvania, according to an obituary that ran in the Skagit Valley Herald after his death.

He joined the State Patrol in 1970. He died in November 1974 after being struck by a 19-year-old wrong-way driver while conducting a traffic stop four miles west of Burlington.

“I always think it’s important to remember the sacrifice our officers have given,” said State Patrol Capt. Scott McCoy, who has been assisting McDermott on the project.

Hendrickson left behind a wife and two young sons — then ages 2 1/2 and 5 months old.

“I can’t imagine a family having to go through that,” McCoy said. “We owe it to the families. They’re the ones that paid the sacrifice. This is a dangerous profession.”

McCoy said a project such as this helps keep Hendrickson’s memory alive.

“It’s really important for us to remember the families that gave the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.

In May 1998, Hendrickson was awarded the Law Enforcement Medal of Honor, McDermott said. A memorial to him was dedicated at the State Patrol office in Burlington in 2011.

McCoy said he is thankful to McDermott for spearheading the effort for a larger tribute to Hendrickson.

“I think this is a great honor,” McCoy said. “It’s a fantastic reminder and it’s a fantastic gesture.”

McDermott has recommended naming about seven miles of Highway 20 — from milepost 52 just east of the Duane Berentson Bridge to milepost 59 just west of Burlington — in Hendrickson’s honor.

Alan McNair Hultgren was the first of only two Skagit County Sheriff’s Office deputies to have died in the line of duty.

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on July 5, 1951, Hultgren’s family moved to Tacoma when he was 4, McDermott said.

After high school graduation, Hultgren attended what was then Seattle Pacific College to study music, McDermott said. According to a Skagit Valley Herald story about his funeral, Bach’s “Toccata” was one of his favorite pieces.

In 1974, Hultgren joined the Army and two years later the Army Reserves.

He was hired by the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office in 1978 and assigned as the eastern Skagit County deputy. He and his wife made their home in Concrete.

On Aug. 7, 1981, there was a celebration in town, said Skagit County Undersheriff Chad Clark, whose father was the Concrete police chief at the time. Hultgren had attended, and danced with his wife Sherill before he left for work.

Hultgren was killed that evening when a 27-year-old driver lost control of his vehicle and crossed the center line four miles west of Marblemount, slamming into Hultgren’s vehicle as Hultgren attempted to respond to a different collision.

“Our lives were enriched because Al passed this way,” former Sheriff John Boynton said at Hultgren’s funeral.

McDermott said he was hired nine months after Hultgren’s death, but the loss still affected the Sheriff’s Office, he said.

“You could still feel it,” McDermott said.

To honor Hultgren, the Sheriff’s Office never removed his name from its roster, and his badge number — 24 — was retired, according to archived reports.

“His death is all the more tragic because of the many years he had ahead of him,” said an editorial in the Skagit Valley Herald that ran on the day of his service. “Deputy Hultgren had devoted himself to our community, and for that devotion he lost his life.”

To this day, Skagit County Sheriff’s Office vehicles bear a memorial sticker to Hultgren and deputy Anne Jackson, who was fatally shot in Alger in 2008.

“They both lost their lives wearing the same uniform I wear,” Clark said. “I think (the highway dedication) is a great honor, not only for them but for our whole profession.”

McDermott is asking the Transportation Commission to rename about 15 miles of Highway 20 — from milepost 90 just east of Concrete to milepost 105 just west of Marblemount — in Hultgren’s honor.

The stretch would include Hultgren’s favorite fishing spot at milepost 101, Clark said.

“This is the least we can do to honor them,” Clark said of the project.

According to state law, the commission may consider renaming sections of highway if the requesting party provides “sufficient evidence,” indicating “community support and acceptance.”

That evidence could be letters of support from state and federal officials, resolutions from local elected bodies, and actions or letters from local organizations including chambers of commerce and service clubs.

“We owe them that at the very least,” said state Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley. “And we owe their families. They protect us every day, and they work in a terribly dangerous line of work. This is a simple way to thank their families and let them know that we haven’t forgotten them.”

McDermott said he has received several letters of support from people and organizations, including Wagoner and state Sen. Liz Lovelett, D-Anacortes, state Reps. Carolyn Eslick, Robert Sutherland and Dave Paul, the Skagit County commissioners, mayors and police chiefs from each of the county’s towns and cities and organizations such as Rotary clubs.

“I think that it’s nice to give some permanence to people who have served, and it seemed like a good recognition,” Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki said.

Still, McDermott said he wants more community support.

“I want to inundate the Transportation Commission,” he said.

The widows of the two men support the project, said McCoy and Clark, who have kept in contact with the women.

“She was so grateful,” Clark said of Sherill Hultgren.

If approved, the street names for residences and businesses on the two stretches of highway will not change, McDermott said.

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