Dover DE Feb 27 2017 Two off-duty members of the Dover Police Department were killed Sunday in an early morning crash west of Dover.
The deaths of the two men, both in their early 20s, prompted a flurry of support and condolences from not only Dover but the entire state as news of the fatal crash spread.
Dover patrolman, Robert E. DaFonte, 23, was driving his 2016 Jeep Wrangler westbound shortly after 4 a.m. Sunday with 22-year-old James D. Watts inside his vehicle, said Master Cpl. Gary Fournier, a spokesman with Delaware State Police.
DaFonte, of Hartly, and Watt, a cadet with the Dover Police Department, were headed westbound on Hazlettville Road, east of Nault Road, approaching a sharp right curve, Fournier said. Neither were working at the time of the crash, according to Dover police.
The Jeep failed to make the curve in the road and drove off the south side of the two-lane roadway, down an embankment where it struck a utility pole, the driver’s side door taking the brunt of the impact, Fournier said. The Jeep then overturned, ejecting Watts before coming to rest on the passenger side of the vehicle.
DaFonte, who was properly restrained, was pronounced dead at the scene, Fournier said. Watts, of Camden-Wyoming, was not properly restrained and also was pronounced dead at the scene.
Fournier said there was no evidence to indicate the involvement of drugs or alcohol. The state Division of Forensic Science will conduct full autopsies, as well as toxicology reports, he said, as is protocol for all fatal crashes.
DaFonte's aunt, Sue Monaco, stopped at the crash scene Sunday, needing to see where her nephew died. She called the crash a tragedy for both families involved, adding that the Dover Police Department is "such a family."
"I didn't know anybody who didn't like Robert," Monaco said. "He had a blithe spirit."
DaFonte, who had served with the Dover Police Department for two years, went out of his way for others, according to his aunt. After hearing she needed a new roof, he arranged for a group of his friends to go to her house and get it done for her, she said.
As a police officer, he was particularly proud of his marksmanship skills, Monaco added.
"He loved being a police officer," she said.
Dover Police Department Deputy Chief Marvin Mailey asked the community Sunday to keep the families of the two DPD members in their thoughts. DaFonte was a two-year-veteran of the force, while Watts was a six-month member of the Special Enforcement Cadet Unit, which assists the police department in enforcing ordinances, completing arrest paperwork and other duties.
"It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that we announce the tragic loss of two members of the Dover Police Department family," Mailey said in a release. "Officer Robert DaFonte and Cadet James Watts were outstanding employees and were committed to serving the citizens of Dover."
Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman, a spokesman for the city police department, said no vigils or services have been planned by the department at this time.
The crash remains under investigation by the state police Collision Reconstruction Unit. Hazlettville Road between Apple Grove School Road and Nault Road was closed for about three hours while the crash was investigated and cleared.
Eric Gerhardt, who lives on Castle Pines Court near the fatal crash scene, said he didn't hear or see the wreck but awoke about 4:30 a.m. and saw the long line of emergency vehicles outside. In his seven years living there, he said he has seen quite a few accidents on that curve.
"If you don't know the road and are driving fast in the dark, it's a dangerous curve," he said.
Condolences began to pour in early Sunday afternoon for the fallen officers. Police departments across the state expressed their sympathies to the Dover Police Department and their families.
"The men and women of the Delaware State Police offer our sympathies to our brothers and sisters with Dover Police Department and the families of the fallen officers," the agency posted on Facebook early Sunday afternoon.
Others began posting on Facebook and Twitter about the death of the two young men as news spread. Many voiced their shock and sadness in "Rest in Peace" messages online, remembering both men as funny, driven and dedicated to serving others.
Fred Calhoun, president of the Delaware Fraternal Order of Police, said his organization will continue to offer support and grieve with those affected by the tragic crash.
"We're doing what we can for the families," he said.