Deaths by the beach: Eight investigations keep police busy
HAMPTON — Police Chief Jamie Sullivan has seen a lot during his 29 years on the Hampton police force, but eight death investigations in less than a month is unlike anything he's ever experienced.
"It's been an extremely busy month for us and certainly there are some impacts on our agency," Sullivan said.
Nearly all of the police department's 34 full-time officers have responded in some way to a deadly scene over the past few weeks.
The series of investigations began Sept. 20 when the bodies of Bruce Menezes and Mark Classen, both of Hampton, were found floating in the Hampton River. Autopsies revealed the two men drowned.
The drownings were followed the next day by the deaths of two Massachusetts women, Pamela Wells and Elise Bouchard, who were struck and killed while riding their bicycles in a charity ride on Route 1A. Unlicensed driver Darriean Hess, 19, of Seabrook, was charged in the accident.
Two weeks later, neighbors found Robert Roderick dead inside his beach house on Oct. 4. Roderick's roommate, Peter Bartoloni, was arrested days later and charged with second-degree murder for allegedly bludgeoning Roderick with a sledgehammer.
With several death investigations already underway, police responded to another serious accident on Oct. 13. Pedestrian Charles Sayre of Amesbury, Mass., was hit by a car at the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and Highland Avenue. The driver, Danielle F. Kooyoomjian of Hampton, was accused of driving drunk when she struck Sayre, who died the next day.
Police have also investigated two "unattended" deaths in recent weeks involving people who died from natural causes. Investigating such deaths isn't uncommon, but still requires police involvement.
"It requires our response in dealing with the families and the folks involved in those," Sullivan said.
Sullivan said support from neighboring police agencies and New Hampshire State Police has helped his department through the difficult weeks. The agencies have provided mutual aid to assist in many ways, from directing traffic and helping with patrols while Hampton officers were tied up lending a hand with the investigations.
"We're very proud of the work they're doing under these circumstances. For a period of time to have this number of serious incidents is unusual for us and you eat up a lot of manpower in these major events initially," said Sullivan, who joined the police department in 1984 as a part-time officer and has been chief for the past eight years.
Sullivan said the officers are the first on the scene and must provide medical assistance and help victims in any way they can. Police then transition to the investigative phase.
"That's a coordinated effort. A lot of resources are necessary in these critical incidents," Sullivan said.
State police were involved in many of the incidents and played an active role in the investigation into Roderick's murder.
"Anytime that they have instances such as this, where their manpower is tied up on whatever the incident may be, we offer our people to not only help with the incident but with patrol coverage. We're here to basically assist them in any way, shape, or form," said state police Lt. Chris Vetter, who worked with Sullivan as a part-time officer in Hampton when he began his career in law enforcement.
Like Sullivan, Vetter said he couldn't remember a time when one police department had so many death investigations in a matter of a few weeks.
"I can't ever recall it being so busy in one place in such a short amount of time and certainly not in Hampton," he said.
Sullivan said he does not yet know how much the string of death investigations has cost the department in terms of extra manpower and overtime.
"Yes, there is an impact, but when these (incidents) are going on that's the least of our concerns. We'll deal with that later," he said.
The deadly incidents have been exhausting for many of the officers, some of whom have found themselves at more than one of the scenes, Sullivan said.
They can also take an emotional toll.
"Our officers, our medics, all of our first responders go out and sometimes see these horrific scenes," Sullivan said.
At the same time, the officers have had to face many grieving family members and friends.
"Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of all of these victims," Sullivan said.