Steamboat police sergeant leaves behind legacy of service to his community
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — During his career as a law enforcement officer with the Steamboat Springs Police Department, Sgt. Jeff Wilson defined what service means, and his friends said he became a portrait of courage after being diagnosed with cancer in July of last year.
“He faced this with courage, which is the kind of person he is, you know, smiling, upbeat and positive,” said Steamboat Springs Police Chief Cory Christensen. “I think his courage was an example for us all.”
Wilson, 44, died Friday at home leaving behind his wife, Michelle, his daughter, Tarah Newell, and his 11-year-old son, Cannon. He also leaves behind a legacy that stretches well beyond the nine years he was with the department, according to fellow police officer and friend Jerry Stabile, who is administrative commander with the Steamboat Springs Police Department.
“I probably haven’t worked with anybody as dedicated to the job as Jeff, “ Stabile said. “He poured his heart and soul into everything that was assigned to him. He ran a field training program for new officers for quite awhile, and he excelled at that. He had an unbelievable impact in a relatively short career with us that rivals anybody that has ever passed through the doors.”
Stabile, who has worked for the department for 28 years, said he thinks Wilson’s legacy will continue through all the young officers he trained and worked with while in Steamboat.
“He would take on whatever I sent his way, and whether he knew what he was doing or not, he would get it done,” Stabile said. “He was also a jack-of-all-trades. He would be fixing somebody’s garage door or doing somebody’s brakes. He was just a very knowledgeable guy; he was a Swiss Army knife.”
Wilson’s daughter agrees and said her dad taught her everything.
“He was just that guy that, whatever you needed to learn, he knew how to do it … and if you didn’t know, he figured it out for you,” Newell said. “I went to him for everything. He was a fixer, and he was a doer, and he was just the dad that everyone wishes they could grow up with.”
Wilson got his start in law enforcement with the Hutchinson, Kansas, police department in October 1998. He then spent 10 years with the Hesston, Kansas, police department before moving to Steamboat in November 2011. He was a patrol officer before being promoted to patrol sergeant in 2013. In 2018, he became the department’s first-ever detective sergeant and worked several high-profile cases.
In addition to his work as an investigator, he was responsible for coordinating rapid response training sessions across the county and surrounding area to ensure that first responders, including police, fire and medical personnel, were prepared for the worst-case scenario of an active shooter. He also was a volunteer with the North Routt Fire Protection District.
“He leaves a big void,” said North Routt Fire Chief Mike Swinsick. “Whenever the pager went off in the evening or at night or on weekends and he wasn’t at the police department, he would respond. He was always a good hand and would jump in and help.”
There was no question Wilson loved serving his community as a police officer and volunteer firefighter, but Stabile also describes his friend as a consummate family man.
“I can probably count on one hand, in the nine years we worked together, the times I saw Jeff away from work where Cannon wasn’t within five feet,” Stabile said.
Wilson shared his love of dirt biking, snowmobiling, fishing, elk hunting and the outdoors with his family. Stabile said Wilson’s time-off was spent with Cannon, Michelle and Tarah, who works at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center where she is an emergency medical technician in the emergency department.
“He just wanted to change things and change it for the best,” Tarah said of her dad’s desire to make an impact on the local police department. “He was good at being their leader, and I think that department will be forever changed with all the new things he implemented.”
Christensen said Wilson’s influence on the department and his service to the community will not be forgotten.
“I was really fortunate to be able to sit with him for awhile shortly before he passed, and really, what he wanted to talk to me about was what a great police organization we have and how he wants us to continue to move forward,” Christensen said. “What I wanted to tell him was that I thought he had served his community well and that he should be proud of his service to our community, because I know I am proud of his service to our community.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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In an effort to make Steamboat Springs Transit buses safer and more accessible, solar-powered lighting in bus shelters and a GPS-triggered automatic voice system that will announce stops in English and Spanish are being implemented.