Another police dog dies while trying to help officers arrest a suspect in South Carolina


COLUMBIA (AP) — For the second time this month, a police dog has been killed while trying to help arrest a suspect in South Carolina.
A Richland County Sheriff's Department dog named Wick was struck and killed by a car on Interstate 77 early Thursday when his leash broke and he chased a suspect who ran across the highway, Sheriff Leon Lott said.
Deputies had been chasing the suspect after discovering him driving a stolen car. He ran after officers flattened his tires using stop sticks, Lott said.
Wick's leash broke apart after he jumped over a barrier, something Lott said Thursday afternoon he has never heard happen to a police dog.
Investigators are still looking for the suspect, the sheriff said.
Wick was a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois and had worked with the sheriff's department for over a year.
Wick's body was draped in an American flag and dozens of officers, many with police dogs sitting by their sides, saluted as he was taken from an emergency vet to a funeral home in a procession Thursday morning.
At least six states, including South Carolina, had bills in their legislatures this year with stiffer penalties for hurting or killing police dogs, although critics of the proposals point out a long history of harassment involving police dogs in marginalized communities and serious dog-bite injuries during arrests.
Wick's death came just nine days after investigators said a State Law Enforcement Division police dog, Coba, was shot and killed as officers tried to arrest a suspect wanted for burglary in a Newberry County home.
The suspect in the shooting was then wounded by officers, authorities said.
State agents held a memorial service for Coba on Wednesday.
Last September, another dog, Rico, was shot and killed on Johns Island by a hiding suspect wanted for randomly shooting at people at responding police officers the day before, investigators said.
Police dogs become part of their handlers' families and the law enforcement family. Their willingness to risk their lives so human officers can avoid threats deserves high commendation, said State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel, whose voice broke with emotion several times as he spoke about Coba on Wednesday.
"These K-9s are fearless. And we in law enforcement introduce them and we deploy them into very dangerous situations. We deploy them into dark rooms and homes where we know people are hiding," Keel said.
Bagpipes played as the memorial service began. Gov. Henry McMaster was there to pay his respects, as he did at a service for Rico last October.
Photos of Coba were shown on a screen as soft music played — the dog in a shopping cart, selfies with his handler agent Cole Powell, training shots as he attacked a heavily padded suspect, and a final snapshot of Powell on a knee, head bowed and his arm gently resting on Coba's body, draped with an American flag.
Powell said he was thankful for Coba's sacrifice and that his memories of the dog will last forever.
Police dogs become part of the fabric of a law enforcement team, Lt. Keith Thrower, who oversees the state agency's dog tracking team, said Wednesday.
"When he entered that house, Coba put himself between us and evil," Thrower said. "Evil didn't win that day because Coba was there to protect his teammates."