Loss strikes in sudden strokes.
The death of detention officer Dominic Stefano in a car crash outside of Missoula last week was the second Broadwater County law enforcement officer lost in eight months and eight days.
Sheriff Wynn Meehan spoke about the death, covering ground with the grace of someone who has withstood the grief of sudden loss before. It’s impossible to speak about Stefano without looking at the death of Deputy Mason Moore, the victim of a shooting last year. Stefano died less than four miles from where Marshall Barrus, suspected of killing Moore, died in a shootout with law enforcement and his father, Lloyd Barrus, was arrested.
Lloyd Barrus is currently awaiting trial in Broadwater County. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
“It’s different,” Meehan said about Stefano’s passing. “If there’s a silver lining in a dark cloud, it’s that it happened three counties away.”
Yet Meehan heard echoes of Moore’s passing as well. “The Montana Highway Patrol is the same trooper I spoke to at Mason’s death,” Meehan said. “There’s a lot of intertwining.”
“(Broadwater County deputies) weren’t the boots on the ground, so it’s not quite as painful as it could have been,” Meehan said about the difference between Stefano and Moore.
The community has found a way to channel the pain of the two recent deaths. Moore’s passing in the line of duty has brought Broadwater County together to find something deeper, evidenced by the reaction to Stefano’s death.
“We’ve come a lot closer,” Meehan said. “Our families are closer. We had a potluck Saturday, family, kids, husbands and wives to talk and discuss things at that moment.”
“The staff … they’re struggling," Meehan said of the reaction to Stefano's death. "He was a bubbly, cheery young man who made people laugh.”
Meehan said that Stefano had aspirations of being a deputy, and his uncle was one of Meehan’s deputies as well.
For Meehan, it seems obvious that he understands the sudden sharp twists in life more now.
“Tomorrow is not promised,” Meehan said.
A Catholic Mass will be offered at the Holy Cross Church in Townsend for those who wish to attend on Thursday at 9 a.m. A viewing will be held from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday, with the family receiving friends from 6-8 p.m. at Stevenson Wilke Funeral Home in Townsend. A Funeral Service is scheduled for noon Saturday at the Broadwater High School gymnasium, with burial to follow at Deep Creek Cemetery in Townsend.