Updated: July 31, 2012 at 12:00 am
Matt Tyner was the kind of police officer who people wanted to pull them over for speeding.
Once after ticketing a hysterical woman on her birthday, Tyner, a member of the Colorado Springs police motorcycle unit who died in a crash last week, decided to serenade her with “Happy Birthday.”
The encounter is among many examples Tyner’s exuberance that filled what Police Chief Pete Carey called Tyner’s “purpose driven life.” In a profession where cynicism is often the product years on the force, Tyner was never defined by his job, but by his zest for life, Carey told the nearly 2,000 people who gathered to honor Tyner’s life on Tuesday afternoon.
Tyner, 42, was killed July 24 while performing what would become the last traffic stop of his life. His motorcycle collided with a vehicle on Austin Bluffs Parkway, between Oro Blanco and Old Farm drives; he was pinned beneath the vehicle and was later pronounced dead at Memorial Hospital Central. The cause of crash remains under investigation and no tickets have been issued.
Tyner is survived by his mother and stepfather, Patricia and James Gray, two brothers, Steve and Jeff Tyner and his cat, Neka. He was preceded in death by his father, John Tyner. Interment will be in Kansas City.
Matt Tyner was born in Kansas City, Mo., where he spent four years with the police department there before moving to Colorado and joining the Colorado Springs Police Department about 13 years ago. He was a recent acquisition to the motorcycle unit, which he joined in January, and before that he made his mark as an instructor at the police training academy, where he served for eight years. During the funeral service, Carey asked for Tyner’s former pupils to raise their hands, and countless arms flew into the air.
On the day he died, Tyner carried with him a reminder of his heart-warming success on the beat, a letter from an out-of-town couple he had recently helped. The couple, who became lost while driving in Colorado Springs, flagged the motorcycle officer down and asked for instructions — they were so delighted when Tyner guided them, and then gave them his personal cell phone number, that they wrote him a letter of thanks. It reached him on the morning of his death.
That story was one of many shared at Tyner’s funeral at New Life Church, a gathering attended not only by many of the police officers he trained, but by officers from across Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming and even Maine. Memories of his smile, his passion for helicopters or wood-carving, and his zealous pursuit of fluency in Spanish were all shared by strangers or friends, read from emails or speeches.
Officer Mike Singels, a longtime friend of Tyner’s, at first refused to speak about Tyner’s life at his funeral, he told the crowd on Tuesday.
“I said I couldn’t, because it would be an impossible task to do Matt justice,” he explained, his voice choking. “I couldn’t do a good enough job explaining what a blessing Matt was to everyone he came in contact with.”
But as Singels began to recall memory after memory of Tyner, his tears faded. One story even made him and the audience laugh: He described the time Tyner signed up for a 15 second taser test, and was instructed by researches to show up to the test inebriated. Tyner did just that, and as he sat plugged into machines and monitors, he was ready for the worst: “Gimme the lovin’,” he told the researchers.
Before the police air support unit was cancelled, Tyner and Singels flew helicopters together.
But Tyner didn’t limit his exploration to the police department. He traveled to Mexico and Spain to learn Spanish, took up marital arts and Parkour, and amassed several diverse circles of friends, Singels said. Tyner strove to be, and was, the kind of cop that broke stereotypes.
As Tyner’s ashes were escorted down Interstate 25 toward the Police Operations Center, at 705 S. Nevada Avenue, numerous civilians stood by to pay their respects. Kammi Taylor-Johns, a Colorado Springs native, stood near the center with an American flag in her hand. She said she met Tyner when she was a nurse in the emergency room at Penrose Hospital and Tyner was a rookie police officer.
Taylor-Johns also said her father James Hernandez is a retired El Paso County Sheriff’s deputy and was at the funeral Tuesday.
“Even if he wasn’t, I’d be here,” she said referring to her father. “It has just been a tragic summer for (Colorado Springs), a summer of loss.”
Brian Taylor, a Colorado Springs resident, also waited at the operations center to welcome the impressive funeral procession.
“I hate to see public servants lose their lives in the line of duty,” Taylor said. “He gave his life to protect and serve, and it’s time we show our support.”
Tyner’s death was senseless and needless, he said, adding that it is time to have pride in your country, pointing out the large flag hanging above Nevada Avenue.
Although he laughed at Tyner’s eccentricities and exploratory spirit, Singels also struggled to understand his friend’s death and to get a grip on what to do next. He realized that he isn’t ready to say good-bye to Tyner, he said.
“I can’t say good-bye to Matt,” he said. “So, I’m just going to say, see you around, buddy. It’s going to be hard not having you around.”
Gazette reporters Matt Steiner and Kristina Iodice contributed to this report.
Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261