The Washington State Patrol estimated more than 2,000 people attended the memorial service for Trooper Sean O'Connell. He died last Friday after he was hit by a truck in Conway along the detour route for the I-5 bridge collapse in Skagit County.
He was a 16-year veteran, a member of WSP Detachment 12 out of Marysville, a motorcycle patrol unit. It's a small unit, just seven members while O'Connell was alive.
"He was sort of the glue that held us together," said Snohomish County Executive John Lovick. "You won't find anybody with a bad thing to say about the man."
WSP Chief John Batiste echoed that sentiment during the memorial service.
"I don't believe he ever met a stranger, I really don't," Batiste said. "He just always had that big smile."
Before the service a procession traveled down I-5 involving more than 350 vehicles. A visiting officer from Vancouver, B.C. said state and county lines, even international borders don't mean much when a brother in uniform dies.
"It's one big family" said Inspector Glenn Newman, "and you don't let your family down, ever."
The hearse carrying O'Connell's body arrived at Comcast Arena in Everett at about 11:45 a.m. following a procession involving some 500 police vehicles from around the country and Canada.
The service at Comcast Arena began at 1 p.m. and lasted nearly three hours.
“We will say goodbye to this hero who embodied the Washington State Patrol motto of ‘Service with humility,’” said WSP Capt. Randy Drake.
O'Connell is survived by his wife, a 7-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter.
During the memorial Batiste thanked troopers for their service and acknowledged O'Connell's family.
To O'Connell's parents, Batiste said, "Thank you for having such a wonderful son. I can't thank you enough."
"Sean O'Connell was not just a great trooper, he was a tremendous human being," Batiste added.
He also spoke of the O'Connell's love and pride in his family, as well as his love for what he did with the WSP.
"Truly, Sean lost his life doing what he loved," said Batiste.
O'Connell's brother, Francis O'Connell, addressed the arena next.
"If our purpose in life is to grow as a human being and in doing so touch the lives of those you come in contact with, then Sean did just that," Francis O'Connell said.
He added that his brother had the unique gift of bringing out the best in those he was around.
"He lived to serve others. It is a reflection of the way he was raised and the way he sought to give back to his community."
Echoing the WSP chief, Francis O'Connell also reflected on Sean O'Connell's love for his family.
"Most of all Sean was a loving and devoted husband, father and son. He sought to be the best in all of his endeavors."
Francis O'Connell talked about Trooper O'Connell's journey from home in New York to joining the U.S. Navy to eventually becoming a state patrol officer.
"He had found a home in the Washington State Patrol," Francis O'Connell said, "and if the Washington State Patrol was his home, it was the motor detachment where Sean found his family. He loved riding motorcycles and loved going to work each day."
Newly-appointed Snohomish County Executive John Lovick spoke about the man who he had worked with closely over the years. Lovick talked of his close relationship with O'Connell, who called Lovick "Dad."
"I had the honor of being Sean's sergeant for six years and they were six of the most delightful years of my life," Snohomish County Executive John Lovick said.
Lovick spoke about the type of man, husband, father and officer O'Connell had been.
"Sean was one of the greatest ambassadors that law enforcement has ever had. He was a wonderful trooper, a true professional and he treated everyone so well. Everyone he met mattered to him."
Lovick also had a message for O'Connell's wife and children, telling them how proud Trooper O'Connell had been of his family.
"I want you to know this, your dad was the nicest man to ever walk the face of this earth. He was so proud of you and loved you very much," said Lovick.
He added that O'Connell helped him "become a better man, a better husband, a better father and a better friend."
Governor Jay Inslee spoke last and presented Trooper O'Connell's family with a folded Washington state flag.
"Highways and bridges can be replaced, but lives cannot," Inslee said, referring to the collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River.
The speakers were followed by the playing of Amazing Grace by Seattle Police Department pipers, a 21-bell salute by the WSP Honor Guard, the folding and presentation of the U.S. flag to O'Connell's wife and other ceremonial proceedings.
The family says the public can honor Trooper O'Connell's memory by donating to either the National Multiple Sclerosis Society or the Washington State Patrol Memorial Foundation. The address for the WSP foundation is P.O. Box 7544, Olympia, Wash. 98507
Colleagues remember O'Connell
John Lovick was appointed Snohomish County Executive this week after five years as sheriff. Before that, he was a trooper for 31 years, retiring as a Sergeant. O'Connell was among the people Lovick supervised and he remembers his friend as a model trooper.
“He wanted to be the best and he wanted to look great,” Lovick said. “Everything from his shoes, bow tie, the gig line on the shirt, the belt buckle, the gun. It all had to be just right. We all just felt good being around him."
Trooper Keith Leary served with O’Connell out of the Marysville post for 10 years. Leary is often the information point of contact for the media, but on Thursday, he spoke from the heart.
"Sean is going to be remembered as the guy with the smile on his face,” Leary said. “He liked everybody. It didn’t matter who you were, good guy or bad guy. He was just a true human being."
KING 5's Travis Pittman and Jake Whittenberg contributed to this report