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Hyattsville Police Honor Fallen Comrade

Twenty-eight years ago Private Robert King became the first–and so far only–Hyattsville police officer to die in the line of duty. His death still carries lessons for the department today.

After 28 years, the death of a Hyattsville police officer still resonates within the city police department.  

Under a weeping, gray sky, a dozen police officers and surviving family members and colleagues gathered at Fort Lincoln Cemetery on Monday morning to pay respect to Private Robert King, the only member of the Hyattsville City Police Department to give the last full measure in service to his community. 

Led in prayer by Fr. James Stack from St. Jerome's Catholic Church, the group volunteered warm remembrances of a man equally devoted to his family as well as his job. 

King died on June 18, 1984 after crashing his police motorcycle while in pursuit of a stolen motorcycle. He was only 27 years old, and he left behind a wife and a two-year-old daughter. 

Jane Applebaum, King's widow, said that she was always aware of the danger her husband faced as a law enforcement officer. The reason? Her father was also a police officer in the Hyattsville force, a lieutenant at the time of King's wreck. 

"I grew up in a police family, so there were no questions asked," said Applebaum in an interview. "I knew what it was, I watched my father do it all those years."

On the night of King's mortal wreck, it was her father who told her the tragic news. 

Later, Applebaum had to decide how to break the news to her young daughter, Kristen. She praises her doctor at the time, who referred her to a pediatric specialist who encouraged her to just be honest with her child. 

"So I did. Of course, what does death mean to a two year old?" asked Applebaum, recalling the days after the tragedy. "I had to tell her over and over again, which was hard."

Kristen has no memory of her father.

But she stole a glance at her and King's daughter, Kristen Eeytel, and their granddaughter. There's another one on the way, too. Kristen is nearly seven months pregnant with her second child.  

"Even though she doesn't have a picture memory of him, I think she has an emotional one, because he was so attentive to her," said Applebaum. 

"As a kid it was difficult knowing that I had that difference from other children," said Kristen. "But, I always see who my father was and what he did."

King was one of Hyattsville's first motorcycle patrol officers, according to Phil Donahue, who served with King toward the end of his career. The city had invested in the motorcycle as a result of the oil crunch which skyrocketed gas prices throughout the late 70s and early 80s. 

In a way, King was a pioneer for more energy efficient police work within the city. 

"That was his pride and joy," said Donahue, who retired as a sergeant in 1985 after 20 years on the city police force. "He was the most writing person in the department, in terms of writing tickets, that was his gold."

Donahue also said that King's death serves as a lesson for other young officers. 

"It was a chase that wasn't necessary," said Donahue. "I just think it was a bad situation, and most of all for a person in a motorcycle. There's no protection on a motorcycle. In a cruiser, there's a little more protection, but everybody has to make their own decision when they're chasing somebody."

Now, King's death is used to educate new members of the city police force. On the last day of their training, they are taken out to King's gravesite at Fort Lincoln Cemetery. There, they tend to it while they learn the story of his life and service. 

"Police work is different in a lot of ways," said Doug Holland, Hyattsville's chief of police. "The officers depend on each other each and every day. That's sort of a cliché, but they depend on each other for their lives each and every day."

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