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The Englewood police officer who was struck by a suspected drunk driver early Monday morning has died, police said.Officer Jeremy Bitner, 39, is survived by his wife and two children, ages 7 and 9."I love Jeremy Bitner ... He was a class act and a fine officer. He very much wanted to move up in the organization and he was taking the steps to do that, but that was taken away from him," said Englewood police Chief John Collins, announcing the officer's death on Tuesday afternoon."Officer Bitner loved his job. He served his country and in the city of Englewood with dignity and honor. Jeremy continues to contribute to life through organ recovery," Collins said.Collins said the death is especially poignant for the small department of 70 officers."It's a difficult time for a department of 70 or 700. We always liken ourselves to being in a family. We're a family who serves our city. And anytime we lose a member of our family, especially in this situation, it's nothing less than heartbreaking, and the grieving is something we're dealing with right now," Collins said.
Suspected Drunk Driver Struck Bitner, Fled, Police Said
Bitner pulled over a gray Mustang near the intersection of West Belleview Avenue and South Broadway just after midnight Monday.During the stop, the driver got out of the car to talk with the officer. While they were talking, standing near Bitner's patrol vehicle, a white Nissan sport utility vehicle heading south on Broadway veered into the right hand lanes and hit both of them, Collins said."Jeremy was in the process of issuing a summons when this southbound vehicle essentially veered into Jeremy and the other individual that was standing next to the police car," Collins said.The SUV fled from the scene and was eventually pulled over 3 or 4 miles away by Littleton police officers.The driver of the SUV was identified as 20-year-old Conner Donohue.Donohue was arrested and being held for investigation of vehicular assault, driving under the influence and leaving the scene of a crash. He appeared in court on Tuesday and bond was set at $100,000.The chief said the charges will likely be increased to vehicular homicide."This is totally out of character for Conner," said neighbor Kristine Willett. She described him as a good kid, a Metro State Student, who made a bad decision.Both Bitner and the other driver -- Kevin Montoya -- were taken to Swedish Hospital in critical condition.Bitner died not long after he was transported."We were informed as a group probably early Monday morning. We gave the family some time and some space for the organ recovery," Collins said.He said Bitner's family is trying to cope with the loss."They're struggling. I mean, when a spouse or loved one gives you a kiss on the cheek (and says), 'Good night, I'll see you in the morning,' and then does not come home, as a husband and father, I would say that they're devastated. The devastation continues. But I'm amazed at their resiliency
You can tell they're going to get through this," Collins said.Montoyas family told 7NEWS he has been upgraded to stable condition. He has injuries to his head and legs.The Colorado State Patrol is investigating the case.
Officer Bitner An Army Vet, Served In Bosnia
Bitner was in the Army, and served in Bosnia as part of the Airborne Infantry division.Collins talked fondly about how, being a former soldier, Bitner couldn't bring himself to call the chief by his first name, even though Collins asked him to do so."There were a bunch of guys that asked him, 'Just say, 'How you doing, John, to the chief one day.' And he tried and he said, 'Well, sir, how you doing?'" Collins reminisced.Bitner was a deputy sheriff in the Elbert County Sheriff's Office and served for six months.He was hired with the Englewood Police Department in December 2004, where he has worked as a patrol officer, a SWAT operator, a field training officer and instructor in the Citizen's Academy program.He earned a commendation in 2005 and 2006 for disarming a suspect armed with a handgun."Officer Bitner received a medal of gallantry for disarming a suspect with a handgun on Aug. 13, 2006, and a certification of commendation for him and other officers for taking an armed suspect into custody on Jan. 30, 2005," Collins said.Bitner had also earned an award earlier this year for safety."He was a dad, and I'm really affected by that, because we commiserated about our children and soccer and the hopes and goals that you have for your children," Collins said.A memorial fund has been set up for Bitner's children at BellCo Credit Union.The Englewood Police Department said it would provide more information about the memorial fund and funeral arrangements on its website at a later date.