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Las Vegas officer dies from COVID-19

Updated July 9, 2021 - 3:19 pm

A Las Vegas police officer, Navy veteran and Nevada national guardsman who died from COVID-19 was laid to rest Thursday, at least the fourth Metro employee lost to the disease.

“COVID took the life of another local hero,” the Injured Police Officers Fund of Las Vegas said of Jason Swanger, 41, on its Facebook page. “LVMPD Officer Jason Swanger was an eight-year veteran and will be deeply missed by his family, friends and coworkers.”

Swanger was remembered as “charismatic,” “loyal,” “goofy,” “honorable,” “loud” and “a human buffet” by family, friends and colleagues during a Thursday morning service at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City.

“The memories, the smiles, the laughter that you get from thinking who this man was,” said Troy Dandrea, a Nevada Army National Guard chaplain. “It was the years of his life that had an impact on everyone in here and many more that are not here today.”

About a dozen veterans and law enforcement officers were in attendance as Swanger was given military funeral honors. Uniformed service members presented burial flags to Swanger’s wife and two children.

Swanger, a Navy veteran and member of the Nevada National Guard, died on June 24 from COVID-19.

The fund is collecting donations on behalf of his family. All donations go directly to his immediate loved ones.

Anyone interested in making a donation can click here.

Joined Metro in 2013

The fund said Swanger joined the Metropolitan Police Department in 2013. He worked in the South Central Area and Enterprise commands and served as a field training officer. He was also an Explorers Advisor.

“Along with his dedication to his country and community, he believed in neighborhood policing and community outreach,” the fund said. “From playing Santa Claus for Christmas for his area command, reading to students at Schorr Elementary School, Baby Week at Silvestri Middle School, and he organized with his squad to have them come and assist with the Raiders Football Camp at Schorr Elementary School.”

An online obituary said Swanger joined the Navy in 1999 and served as a culinary specialist for the next 11 years.

He later served as a staff sergeant and culinary specialist with the Nevada Army Guard’s 72nd Military Police Company until his retirement in May 2020.

“He was awesome,” recalled Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Soriano in a Facebook post. “He was our head cook. He came in early and stayed late and made sure all of the soldiers were fed. He was the head cook but also a real leader within the unit.”

An online obituary described Swanger as “a man among men.”

“He stood for his country, his family, his faith, nobility, and honor. He was a man of his word and a man of his convictions. Jay was larger than life. His laugh and his smile were contagious. He had the ability to turn a bad day into a great day with one of his one-liners. Whether it was his area he patrolled or his own neighborhood, the people around him felt protected and safe. Jay will be greatly missed by all the lives that he touched.”

In an interview Thursday, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo offered his “condolences to the family” and said he and others in the department were shocked by Swanger’s death.

“He had no underlying conditions,” Lombardo said. “We are at a loss exactly of why it rose to this level. It is unfortunate. We do everything we can to protect the officers.”

The Las Vegas Valley law enforcement community has endured repeated losses from COVID-19 since the pandemic started.

They include retired Las Vegas police Detective Michael Karstedt, 70, who died Jan. 3 from complications of COVID-19. Lt. Erik Lloyd, 53, died July 29 after nearly 30 years with Metro. He served as president of the Injured Police Officers Fund since January 2004, where he coordinated fundraising efforts for wounded cops and their families. Metro civilian employee John Melwak, 70, died Oct. 23. Melwak was a patrol services representative assigned to the Northwest Area Command and had been with the department since 2003.

‘We are put in danger’

Lloyd’s wife, Minddie, attended the service for Swanger.

“The family could really use a lot of support right now,” Lloyd said. “He is a hero to a lot of us. The family right now needs whatever support we can give. He leaves two children.”

Lombardo noted that police officers are at an increased risk to COVID because of their daily interactions with the public.

“We are considered essential,” the sheriff said. “Since day one (of the pandemic) everybody has been working, coming to work on a normal basis because that is our duty and responsibility as police officers. We don’t get to pick and choose when we want to come to work. We can’t work from home and we have interaction with the public on a daily basis. … With or without a pandemic, we are put in danger.”

Lombardo said previously that the police department, as of April, had about 34 percent of police employees fully vaccinated — a rate he called unacceptable. He said Thursday the department continues to encourage vaccinations but will not mandate them.

“It is incrementally going forward,” Lombardo said of efforts to get more officers vaccinated. “It is not a mandate. We rely on people’s personal responsibility in that space. I support them getting the vaccine, but some people choose not to.”

Contact Glenn Puit by email at gpuit@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter. Contact Mathew Miranda at mmiranda@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mathewjmiranda on Twitter.

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