Fort Collins, CO – Johnstown Police Officer Yuri Thomas died during an accidental drowning incident at Horsetooth Reservoir on Sep. 17.
Officer Thomas, 32, was enjoying a day in the water with his wife, Nola Thomas, when she lost sight of him as he was swimming, The Greeley Tribune reported.
Officers responded to South Bay beach at approximately 2:30 p.m., and recovered Officer Thomas’ body approximately 45 feet from shore after an hour-long search, KDVR reported.
He was transported to a local hospital by helicopter, but did not survive.
The Larimer County Coroner’s Office determined that Officer Thomas’ death was the result of an accidental drowning, The Greeley Tribune reported.
His fellow officers described him as “one of the happiest, enthusiastic, and most dedicated officers to serve the citizens of Johnstown,” according to the paper.
Johnstown Police Commander Aaron Sanchez said he does not usually accept applications, but that he couldn’t help but notice the aspiring officer standing in the lobby, wearing a suit.
“I figured, I’ve got to talk to this guy,” Cmdr. Sanchez recalled. “He started telling me about himself, and I felt the passion he had to be a police officer.”
Officer Thomas began serving with the Johnstown Police Department in February.
He was born on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent to a single mother, who later entered into a relationship with an abusive man, The Greeley Tribune reported.
When he was a young child, an off-duty school resource officer helped him and his mother escape their abuser, and he aspired to become a police officer ever since.
Just before his mother died of cancer when he was eight years old, she told him he was named after Yuri Gagarin, the first man to travel to outer space, and told him to become something great, The Greeley Tribune reported.
Officer Thomas arrived in New York City during his 20s, where he met Nola at church.
The couple had been together ever since.
Nola said she was especially proud when her husband achieved his dream of becoming a police officer.
“When he puts that uniform on, he’s like a proud peacock,” she told The Greeley Tribune.
As news of Officer Thomas’ tragic death spread, citizens flocked to the police department to offer their condolences and support.
A man who Officer Thomas had pulled over a week prior came in and gave Cmdr. Sanchez $20 to give to Nola, telling him the officer “was a gentle soul.”
“[Yuri’s] the type of guy you'd want to be pulled over by because he would give you a ticket, and you would probably thank him for giving you the ticket because he's just that nice of a guy,” Cmdr. Sanchez said.
Another resident posted a video she had recorded of Officer Thomas happily dancing while he directed traffic at an intersection earlier in the year.
“He brought a smile to all of our faces that day,” Cortney Lopez wrote in the video caption. “My thoughts and prayers are with his family as well as the department.
A fundraising account established to help Officer Thomas’ widow in the wake of her loss had raised nearly $19,000 in donations as of Saturday afternoon.
Officer Thomas will be laid to rest on Monday, according to his department.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Johnstown Police Officer Yuri Thomas, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Rest easy, hero. We’ll hold the line from here.