WEST POINT -- The timing of a stop to refuel a patrol vehicle may have saved the life of Draper Police Officer Eric Braegger.
Braegger, who has been with the Draper Police Department since its 2003 inception, and in law enforcement 19 years, lost a friend and a superior officer when Draper Police Sgt. Derek Johnson, 32, was fatally shot Sunday morning after beginning to approach a suspected transient who was sitting in a vehicle.
Braegger, a 15-year West Point resident, said Johnson was his sergeant.
"My crew was on when this happened," said 43-year-old Braegger, who arrived at the scene shortly after the incident had played out in a Draper neighborhood.
Police say the suspected transient, Timothy T. Walker, 35, is believed to have gunned down Johnson before turning the gun on a woman inside his car and then himself.
The woman has been identified as Traci L. Vaillancourt, 34.
Both Walker and Vaillancourt, who is considered by police to be a victim, remain in critical condition at a Salt Lake City-area hospital. Both were transients living in a car.
The motive for the shootings remains unknown.
Braegger said the shooting incident could have involved him had he not needed to stop for fuel.
"Based on the circumstances, and the way things worked out, I could have been there, either before or at about the same time of (Johnson's) arrival," he said.
"The only difference in me not being there is the unknown factor. The difference of me not being there, and not knowing what was going on, was the need to stop for fuel."
And now Braegger is mourning the loss of his superior officer, whose life was all about service.
"His goals and his focus were nothing but service, to make sure our jobs were done right," said Braegger, who says he had good rapport with Johnson.
Braegger has had to mourn another close friend who died in the line of duty.
"This is not the first time this has happened to me in my career," an emotional Braegger told the Standard-Examiner.
Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Aaron Beesley died in a fall off a cliff on the Mount Olympus Trail in Salt Lake County in June 2012 during a search and rescue mission to save two stranded teenage hikers.
At one time, Beesley went on ride-alongs with him, Braegger said.
Reflecting on his experiences in losing colleagues, "people won't understand," Braegger said as he attempted to find words for his feelings.
As a result of what he has been through, Braegger said his wife "is just worried about me, if I'm OK."
And when asked if he is OK, Braegger replied, "OK as you can be."
Despite the emotional hurt, Braegger said he fully anticipates attending Johnson's funeral.
Larkin Mortuary says a public viewing for Johnson is set for Thursday evening, followed by a funeral at 11 a.m. Friday. Both services will be held at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City. Burial will be at Larkin Sunset Gardens in Sandy.
Contact reporter Bryon Saxton at 801-625-4244 or email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter at @BryonSaxton.