Margaret Lopez, 56, was killed when her husband's patrol car was struck head-on by a motorist going the wrong direction. The deputy was working the overnight shift and had his wife with him during his patrol.
Many law enforcement agencies in the state allow ride-alongs by family members. But some have more rigid restrictions. The St. Paul Police Department is one of them.
St. Paul's ride-along policy was created in the 1970s. It prohibits people from riding with officers if they are related to them.
Police Department spokesman Tom Walsh says there have been a few exceptions over the years that have been approved by the police chief. But he says for the most part, the department adheres to the policy.
“It might help the relationship more if they understand it, because there's nothing like this job and what it does to a person.”Ramsey County Sheriff's deputy Kristi Pavek
"I don't know why the policy was written as it was. I can tell you that the people who established that policy are no longer here and really aren't available to us to ask why they wrote it in the fashion that they did. All I can tell you is that it has served us pretty well over time," says Walsh.
Bill Gillespie worked as a St. Paul police officer in the 1970s, when the department's ride-along policy was created. He's now executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association.
Gillespie says when he was a cop, he asked his St. Paul superiors if he could take his cousin on a ride-along. At the time, the cousin was interested in becoming a St. Paul police officer. Gillespie's request was denied.
Gillespie recalls being told that it could be too disruptive to families if something went wrong during the patrol shift.
"The problem being, I guess, just what could have happened the other night. You could have a squad accident, you could have any sort of scenario that you care to paint," says Gillespie. "And then all of a sudden if both parents are gone, what in the world would you do with the situation with the family that's left? So I think that was always the intention of the St. Paul Police Department not to allow that."
Gillespie says he was told his cousin could go on a ride-along with an unrelated officer. St. Paul Police still allow those arrangements. In fact, any city resident without a felony criminal history can ride along with St. Paul police if they sign a liability waiver.
Gillespie says he thinks it's a good idea to allow ride-alongs. He says they are an excellent way for the public to get a better understanding of what's involved in police work. But he says it also makes sense to have limits on who can go.
"If I was a police chief I would probably not permit family members to ride with police officers. But that's probably a product of my experience, the culture that I came out of," says Gillespie.
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher was unavailable to talk with MPR about whether he will review his department's ride-along policy. But deputy Kristi Pavek says so far she hasn't heard anything suggesting the policy will be changed.
Pavek works closely with deputy Joseph Lopez, whose wife died in the New Year's Day accident. Pavek says she hopes the sheriff's administration doesn't tinker with its ride-along policy.
"It was an accident. It could have happened to a civilian driving down the road in their car. It just so happened that it happened to a policeman and his wife," says Pavek. "So I just don't see taking away the ride-along program as being an answer to this."
Pavek says on the night of the accident, her aunt rode along with her. And she says another deputy she works with had his wife along with him. Pavek says it's important for officers to be able to show their family members what they do.
"It might help the relationship more if they understand it, because there's nothing like this job and what it does to a person," says Pavek. "I think that it's important that our families are able to ride along."
Alcohol was apparently involved in the crash that took the life of the deputy's wife.
Elizabeth Rhodes, 23, of White Bear Lake, was the driver of the vehicle that collided with deputy's squad car. State Patrol officials say alcohol was detected in her the driver's system at the time of the crash.
A spokesperson for Regions Hospital says Rhodes remains in critical condition. No charges have been filed yet in connection with the crash.