October 23, 2017 10:17 PM
Nationwide this year, 106 police officers have died in the line of duty, according the Officer Down Memorial Page.
One of the names included in that number is Bill Mathews, a member of the Wayzata police force for nine years.
He was killed Sept. 8 just after 12:30 in the afternoon. There had been a report of debris along Highway 12, and Mathews was sent to remove the litter for the safety of drivers. It was a simple call. Even a mundane call. And it was his final call.
A car driven by 54-year-old Beth Freeman, of Mound, struck and killed him. The crash was a hit to his family's heart, the Wayzata Police Department and the larger West Metro community. Mathews was married to Shawn, and the couple have a 7-year-old son, Wyatt.
"I knew date one that this was the man I am going to marry, and I knew he did a job that was dangerous, but you don't think danger is going to affect you and family like this," Shawn Mathews said.
Bill and Shawn Mathews had been married nine years. Sitting in their Hennepin County home, Shawn said she married her hero. "I really believe Bill was called to be a police officer; he said it and he lived it."
Shawn never thought she'd be a widow, especially so soon.
"We went into this to share this journey together and we don't get the chance to," she said.
As she reflected on their life together, Shawn said she respected what Bill stood for, and was reminded of it every time he wore his blue shirt, patrol boots and badge #7221.
"He was doing what he was supposed to do, and fate had a different journey for him that day," she said.
Before he left home Sept. 8, Shawn says, the couple drove their son to school and then went their separate ways for the day. "I said, 'I love ya, babe, be safe,' and he didn't come home."
First came the phone call that her husband had been in an accident. Then came reality. Bill didn't survive his injuries.
At the scene, another driver recorded the reaction of the suspect, Beth Freeman: "What have I done, what have I done, I am going to jail," Freeman said via the recording. Authorities arrested her and she was charged with criminal vehicular homicide.
Court records claim Freeman was behind the wheel of a borrowed car, on the phone and under the influence of a drug when she struck Mathews. Freeman's license also had been revoked. Her driving history revealed numerous violations and 20 criminal convictions.
Shawn Mathews spoke to that. "I don't think you can stop people from making decisions," she said. "With or without a license, this person felt like they could drive."
Shawn and Wyatt Mathews were touched by his funeral and the procession through town. Fellow officers escorted Mathews to his final resting place at Summit Cemetery. Shawn Mathews said her family has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support in the weeks since.
"I really feel like if Wyatt and I can't move forward, life will move forward without us, and that's not what Bill would want."
The Vikings invited Shawn and Wyatt to the team's training facility at Winter Park recently, where Wyatt led players in a huddle.
Later, the team invited Shawn and Wyatt, along with members of the Wayzata Police Department, to watch the Vikings take on the Packers. The Vikes won -- and so did the Mathews. Officer Bill Mathews was honored as a "Hometown Hero" in front of the crowded stadium, which made the game even more special, Shawn said. "I think it's really important for Wyatt to know his dad was loved, and what he did every day and it wasn't for nothing, that it was for a purpose, to feel the arms of the community wrapped around us."
She shared their love story and her husband's love of law enforcement with the goal of impacting others. Perhaps it might change drivers' behavior in the future, she said.
Freeman has another court hearing in December. Ahead of that, a fundraiser will be held Nov. 17 to help pay for a trip for the Mathews and Wayzata officers to go "From Wayzata to the Wall" and attend the ceremony at the National Monument honoring fallen officers in Washington, D.C.
Save the date! Please share. Hope to see you all there! pic.twitter.com/LGonKY4nfu— Wayzata Police (@WayzataPoliceMN) October 14, 2017
For folks who would like to contribute another way, Wells Fargo has set up a memorial fund in Bill Mathews' name that can be accessed at metro branches.
Updated: October 23, 2017 10:17 PM
Created: October 23, 2017 07:44 PM
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