ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A Rio Rancho police officer died Monday after crashing his motorcycle while riding in a motorcade as President Bush prepared to leave the city following a fundraiser for Sen. Pete Domenici.
Officer Germaine Casey, 40, was rushed to an Albuquerque hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The motorcycle was near the front of the motorcade, and the president saw the wreck as he drove past on the way to the airport, said Rio Rancho Police Department spokesman Officer John Francis.
Bush issued a statement saying he was saddened by Casey's death and extraordinarily grateful for his protection.
"It is a high calling to choose to serve and protect your fellow citizens, and I will always be indebted to Officer Casey's service," the president said, adding that the officer's wife and two teenage children were in his thoughts and prayers.
Francis said Casey's motorcycle hit a curb and then a tree, but investigators were reconstructing the accident to determine exactly what happened.
"Any time there is a presidential motorcade, the officers, that's part of their job, they drive at a high rate of speed," said Trish Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the Albuquerque Police Department, the agency that is investigating the crash.
Francis said Casey had received special training in riding in motorcades and had previously escorted Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on separate occasions.
Casey had been with the Rio Rancho Police Department since 2005 and worked with campus police at the University of New Mexico before that.
Francis said Casey, who he described as easygoing, fun-loving and always smiling, will be missed by many officers. The department has made counselors available.
"They're handling it the best they can," Francis said of his fellow officers.
Officers with the UNM police department said that during Casey's two years on the force, he had built relationships in that department that continue to this day.
"He was a man of integrity and always demonstrated initiative. He received numerous letters of appreciation and commendations from supervisors and from the public," UNM police said in a statement.
Domenici, R-N.M., said in a statement that he was deeply saddened to learn about Casey's death.
"The thoughts and prayers of my wife Nancy and I are with his family during this dark time and we offer them our most sincere condolences," the senator said.
The crash occurred where the road at the airport goes into an underground parking garage. Traffic was shut down after the crash, resulting in a bottleneck at the airport.
Photographers and reporters in the presidential motorcade said the officer's motorcycle appeared to be nearly destroyed, and the officer was on the ground, being helped by an emergency medical technician.
A Honolulu police officer, Steve Favela, died when his motorcycle crashed while he was part of a presidential motorcade traveling across Hickam Air Force Base last November.
In February 2006, a Bernalillo police officer was injured when his motorcycle went down while he was helping escort Bush's motorcade on Interstate 25. Sgt. Jerry Nixon suffered a broken nose, cuts and bruises.