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Nevada Police & Fire Games honors officer killed in 2013 rescue attempt

“Just do it for Dave” is what Metropolitan Police Department Sgt. Dave Callen told potential participants Saturday before one of the final events of the 40th annual Nevada Police & Fire Games.

And he wasn’t referring to himself.

Three years ago the games were re-named the Officer David VanBuskirk Memorial Grappling Event to honor the late Metro police Search and Rescue officer who died July 22, 2013, during a helicopter rescue of a hiker stranded near Mary Jane Falls on Mount Charleston.

“He was always extremely positive, and he had an incredible amount of character,” Callen said of VanBuskirk. “He was a kind and compassionate person who exceled at everything he did.”

Callen not only worked with VanBuskirk, but he also trained with him at Sergio Penha’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy on Schiff Drive where the memorial event was held Saturday.

“[VanBuskirk] got his black belt quickly,” Callen said. “It typically takes 10 years to get it, and he did it in eight.”

As more than 20 competitors in the event, one of 21 different sports categories offered in the games, filed into the jiu-jitsu academy, they rolled around on mats and jogged in circles in preparation for the event under a sign that read, “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu family, in loving memory of our brother David VanBuskirk.”

Though gym member and competitor Fanny Tommasino never met VanBuskirk, she was competing for the second time to honor his memory.

“I’ve heard so many wonderful things about him,” she said. “Sergio surrounds himself with good people so I too need to hold myself to a high standard and help anyway that I can.”

Tommasino, one of three women to compete on Saturday, said she would like to see more women competitors sign up so that the event grows.

“I hope more people sign up and even if they didn’t know him, they know that his time on Earth impacted people,” she said.

Raymond White is one of the many people VanBuskirk impacted.

White and VanBuskirk got their blue, purple and brown belts together and trained alongside each other for nine years.

“He got his black belt before me,” White recalled of VanBuskirk. “As a competitor he was fearless, and he’d do anything to help anyone.”

On the day VanBuskirk died, White remembers training with him at the academy in the morning.

“After class, I pulled onto Valley View [Boulevard] and he was on the side of the road changing a tire for a girl who had a baby in her car,” White said of VanBuskirk.

White said he pulled over and asked VanBuskirk if he need a hand.

“And he said, ‘No, I’ll see you Thursday. That day he died saving the life of a perfect stranger,” White said. “He was a great person, and to us he’ll always remain perfect.”

In the future, White, like Tommasino, would like to see the games draw more competitors.

“It gives hope to the police and firefighters, especially in this hostile climate,” he said. “It’s getting bigger every year, and I hope one day it becomes enormous because it should be.”

The nonprofit Nevada games were established in 1976 to provide sports that allow law enforcement and firefighter personnel to participate on a state level within their communities through the development of physical and mental fitness, to promote good will and camaraderie among the players, and to develop personal friendships.

Callen said T-shirts were sold at the grappling event, and donations were made to raise money to pay for youths who wouldn’t otherwise have the means to train at the jiu-jitsu academy.

“That’s a big part of what we do — bridging the gap between the police and the community,” Callen said. “It’s also nice because Dave always went above and beyond, and he’d be doing this anyway if he were here.”

Contact reporter Ann Friedman at afriedman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4588. Follow @AnnFriedmanRJ on Twitter.

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