2 APD officers killed in copter crash identified

Atlanta Police Department officials have identified the two officers killed in a helicopter crash Saturday night on the city’s northwest side.

The officers, Richard J. Halford, 48, and Shawn A. Smiley, 40, died when the helicopter, which they were using to search for a missing 9-year-old boy who was later found safe, crashed into power lines near the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. and Hamilton E. Holmes drives near I-20 around 10:30 p.m.

Halford, of Lithia Springs, joined the APD in May 1986. He had been with the air unit for more than 16 years, serving as a pilot. Halford also has served in APD’s Zone 4 precinct, the motors and DUI units. He is survived by his former wife, and a 21-year-old daughter, according to Atlanta police officials.

Smiley, of Lithonia, joined the APD in October 2010. He joined the air unit earlier this year, serving as a tactical flight officer. He also served in the Department’s Zone 2 precinct. He is survived by his wife and three children, ages 5, 7, and 9.

Trust funds have been set up to benefit the officers’ families through any Wells Fargo bank location, authorities said. Contributions may be made in the name of the officers beginning noon on Monday. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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Meanwhile, officials from the National Transportation Safety Board, which was investigating the crash along with the Federal Aviation Administration, planned to talk with reporters at 5 p.m. at the crash site.

No one on the ground was injured in the crash which was described by witnesses at the scene.

Ravien Walker, who said she saw the accident, told Channel 2 Action News , “I noticed something falling out of the sky. It hit the power line and it hit the ground. I jumped out of my car and ran because I was really close to it. It could have fell right down on top of my car.”

Another witness, Darryl James, said, “For that time of night, there was nobody on the street for some odd reason. The helicopter hit in the middle of the street with no traffic.”

James told the Associated Press, “The tail end went down and then there was an explosion.”

Police mourned the loss.

“Anytime I get a call late at night, it’s always a tragic situation,” Atlanta Police Chief George Turner said. “Losing an officer is the most difficult thing a police chief can face. Losing two is an unthinkable tragedy.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed also expressed his sympathies to the officers’ families.

“We mourn these two brave men and offer our deepest condolences to their families and loved ones,” Reed said in an emailed statement. “We also pause to extend our sympathy to the men and women of the police department who place their lives in harm’s way every day to keep our city safe, and who especially feel the pain of this loss.”

The officers killed Saturday night were the second and third Atlanta officers killed this year in the line of duty. In January, Senior Officer Gail Thomas died was arriving at a crash scene to help a fellow officer when she was struck by a drunk driver.

— Please return for updates.

Staff writer Fran Jeffries contributed to this story.

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