K9 Zach


Officer Randy Gehrke

King County Sheriff’s Office

On July 6, 1988, at 1900 hours, police units from King County’s Southwest Precinct (Sea-Tac area) were dispatched to a forgery investigation at the Marriott Hotel located near the Sea-Tac Airport. As officers arrived, the suspect saw them and fled on foot to a waiting vehicle with a seventeen year old female inside. The suspect took off at high speed in a stolen BMW and a pursuit ensued. The pursuit lasted five minutes and ended when the suspect mistakenly took a wrong turn into the parking lot of a Washington State Patrol office.

He and the female fled on foot. Troopers saw the female hand a small black object to the male suspect, later discovered to be a .25 caliber semi-automatic pistol. The female was caught by one of the troopers and another trooper chased the male suspect into a very heavily wooded and brushy ravine where he lost sight of the suspect.

A tight perimeter was set and a K-9 unit was requested. Dpty. R. Gehrke and Police Dog Zach responded to the scene with a 20 minute response time. The police dispatcher broadcast that the suspect was probably armed although no weapon was seen.

Ofcr. Gehrke made contact with Sgt. T. Oswald, the last person to see where the suspect went over a fence into the woods. Both Ofcr. Gehrke and Sgt. Oswald went on the track after Zach was put over the eight foot cyclone fence. Before Zach was put over the fence, he was air scenting so the officers knew the suspect was fairly close. Once over the fence, he immediately picked up a track along the fence line for about fifty yards, then tracked down into a very thick blackberry ravine where he engaged the suspect.

At this point, Zach was tracking off line and could not be seen, but there was movement in the dense brush about thirty feet ahead of the officers. Five shots were heard in rapid succession fired by the suspect, with Zach making a muffled yelp on the third round fired. Ofcr. Gehrke and Sgt. Oswald were only twenty feet from the scene and took cover by diving into the brush behind a large tree.

Gehrke tried to recall Zach once but he did not respond. Since they were only twenty-five feet away from the suspect, only one recall was voiced to prevent giving away their location. Realizing his dog was likey shot, Gehrke requested three additional K-9 teams to respond. He wanted two handlers with a fresh dog to run with him and he wanted one team to prepare as a transport vehicle to take K-9 Zach to Greenlake clinic.

K-9 Officers Bell and Klason arrived with Police Service Dog Magnum fifteen minutes later. Gehrke took them to where he had last seen Zach and K-9 Magnum immediately began to air scent. He located the suspect lying down just ten feet on the other side of a brush pile. K-9 Zach was laying next to the suspect and both the dog and the suspect had obvious head wounds.

Zach was carried out by Oswald and Gehrke to other K-9 officers and CPR was immediately initiated. Instructions were given over the radio by Department veterinarian Dr. Canfield to a Medic Unit that arrived to assist. They were trying to stabilize Zach for transport to Greenlake Animal Hospital, however there was no heartbeat or respiration.

At the hospital Dr. Canfield performed necessary measures but pronounced Zach dead on arrival. Zach was shot four times in the head with two bullets entering through his mouth. Dr. Canfield stated that any one of the head wounds would have been instantly fatal.

The suspect was taken to Harborview where he died a short time later of a self-inflicted bullet wound to the head.

Zach was awarded with King County’s Valor and Blue Star Awards for unselfishly giving his life in the line of duty for his fellow officers. He was born on December 9, 1982 and was sired by King County Police Dog Jake. Jake was shot by a bank robber, once in the chest and once in the head with a .357 magnum, but survived his wounds to go on and live peaceably in retirement after 6 years of service.