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Mark Zach

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Posted On: September 28, 2002          Updated On: September 28, 2002
© Terence T. Gorski, 2001

EAP Services For Police Officers Can & Should Save Lives
By Terence T. Gorski
September 28, 2002

There is a desperate need to provide credible and effective employee assistance programs (EAP's) to our nation's police officers.  The police are a critical component in our network of emergency first responders.  We need to value the efforts of these professionals and recognize and honor the stress and sufferring that they endure in the course of protecting us all.

One example of the desperate need for EAP services can be found in the recent death of State Trooper Mark Zack.  Officer Zach made a simple data entry error when keying in the serial number of gun.  As a result he failed to identify that the weapon was stolen and several weeks later that weapon was used by criminals in a lethal bank robbery.

Officer Zach felt responsible and the resultant guilt, probably coupled with the usual build up of stress that occurs with most career police officers, was too much to handle.  Officer Zach committed suicide leaving behind a traumatized wife and seven children ages 2 to 15.  

This tragedy reminds us that  all police departments need to place a renewed emphasis on their Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and work hard to create a culture within their departments that support their officers getting help in times of trauma and stress.  In the aftermath of this horrible tragedy, a grieving family is left behind who are also in need to specialized help.  

As addiction and mental health professionals, stories like this should cause us to recommit ourselves to the task of making sure that all emergency responders in all departments around the country have access to credible and effective employee assistance services and that all officers and family members are prepared by advanced training to deal with the traumatic events that are a routine part of their lives.  

The Need Is Now
 Don't Wait Until It's Too Late

Terry Gorski and The CENAPS Corporation
Can Help Police Departments Develop Credible and Effective EAP Programs

Nebraska State Patrol Mourns Troopers Death
September 28, 2002

main feature image The Nebraska State Patrol is mourning the death of Trooper Mark Zach, a twelve-year veteran of the agency. The 35-year-old officer took his own life shortly after 1:00 p.m. today, September 27, 2002. Trooper Zach was stationed and lived in the Norfolk, Nebraska, area. He died in an area outside of Norfolk, Nebraska.

Colonel Tom Nesbitt, Superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol, expressed deepest sympathies to Trooper Zach's wife, Loree, and seven children, ages 2-15, as well as his extended family.

"Trooper Mark Zach was an outstanding officer of the highest professional standards and we will miss him," said Colonel Nesbitt. "My thoughts and prayers are with his family and I would ask every citizen in Nebraska to join me in praying for his family. I cannot describe the sadness that has befallen our agency."

Governor Mike Johanns said, "On behalf of the entire state I want to express my condolences to Trooper Zach's family and to the entire Nebraska State Patrol family. This tragedy only compounds yesterday's tragedy."

Trooper Zach's family has asked that the media not contact them in their time of sorrow. Questions should be directed to the Public Information Office at (402) 479-4985.

Nebraska Trooper Commits Suicide

Nebraska Highway Patrol Trooper Kills Himself 
Day After Bank Heist Leaves Five People Dead

The Associated Press

MADISON, Neb. Sept. 27 — A state trooper committed suicide Friday, apparently upset because he botched a background check involving a man who one week later allegedly killed five people in a bank robbery, authorities said.

Mark Zach, 35, shot himself with his service revolver just outside Norfolk, the site of Thursday's deadly heist.

Zach had stopped one of the four robbery suspects last week and ticketed him for carrying a concealed weapon, Gov. Mike Johanns said.

However, Zach transposed two digits when entering the gun's serial number into a police computer a mistake that kept him from learning the weapon had been stolen, Johanns said.

The gun was confiscated by authorities, but Zach apparently felt responsible for not getting the suspect behind bars on a more serious stolen weapons charge, said Col. Tom Nesbitt, Nebraska State Patrol superintendent.

"Trooper Zach could not accept that," Nesbitt said. "He took his responsibility very, very seriously."

Nesbitt did not elaborate as to how he knew how Zach was feeling. It wasn't known whether a more serious charge would have put the man behind bars or for how long.

Zach was a 12-year veteran of the patrol and was based in Norfolk. He and his wife had six children, ranging in age from 4 to 15, Nesbitt said. Zach was elected this year as an area chairman for the State Troopers Association of Nebraska.

Zach stopped Erick Fernando Vela, 21, for a traffic violation Sept. 19 and arrested him on a concealed weapons charge. Vela was released after posting bond.

Authorities say Vela and three other men stormed into a U.S. Bank branch in Norfolk on Thursday and killed four employees and a customer before fleeing. All have been captured and charged with first-degree murder.

"Zach was in no way responsible for what happened in Norfolk yesterday," Johanns said. "This tragedy only compounds yesterday's tragedy."

Norfolk Mayor Gordon Adams said he believed the stress of such a disturbing case could lead a law officer to consider suicide.

"That's dreadful," Adams said. "It is the kind of fallout you get sometimes with these tragic events."

Norfolk held a crisis intervention session for police, fire and other emergency personnel Friday. It wasn't known how many people attended.

No bail for men in Neb. bank killings
State trooper’s suicide clouds inquiry into deadly robbery bid
 
Image: Four men charged in bank murders

Booking photos released Friday show the four men charged in the bank murders. From left to right: Gabriel Alan Rodriguez, Jorge Alberto Galindo, Erick Fernando Vela and Jose Mario Sandoval

The case of one of the nation’s deadliest bank robberies, in which five people were left dead, was complicated Friday after a Nebraska State Patrol trooper who helped investigate the robbery committed suicide.

MADISON, Neb., Sept. 27

A POLICE OFFICER testified Friday that the gunmen in the robbery of a U.S. Bank branch in nearby Norfolk walked in with guns blazing, and within 40 seconds all five victims had been shot in the head.
       Asked why they opened fire, one of the suspects would say only, “It went to hell in the bank,” Capt. Steve Hecker said during the first court appearance for the four men. All were denied bail.
       The dramatic testimony came one day after the slayings touched off a manhunt across northeastern Nebraska.
       According to Hecker, one of the suspects cased the inside of the bank, then walked out and used a walkie-talkie to relay the location of the employees to the others, who started shooting as soon as they stormed in.
       The three alleged gunmen were caught three hours later in a stolen pickup after stopping at a gas station 75 miles away. A fourth suspect, the alleged scout, was arrested late Thursday. All four men are from the area.
       All four suspects face five counts of first-degree murder, which carries a potential death sentence in Nebraska.
       
MYSTERY SUICIDE

Meanwhile, Madison County Attorney Joseph Smith said a state trooper who helped investigate the robbery killed himself “in connection” with the robbery.
       Authorities said that one of the suspects was pulled over Sept. 19 for a traffic violation and charged with carrying a concealed weapon, a 9mm gun. Authorities said State Trooper Mark Zach, 35, transposed two digits when entering the gun’s serial number into a police computer, a mistake that kept him from learning that the weapon had been stolen.
       The gun was confiscated, but Zach apparently felt responsible for not getting the suspect behind bars on a more serious stolen weapons charge, said Col. Tom Nesbitt, the State Patrol superintendent.
       Zach used his service revolver to kill himself just outside Norfolk early Friday afternoon, authorities said. The 12-year veteran left a wife and six children, ages 4 to 15.
       “This tragedy only compounds yesterday’s tragedy,” Gov. Mike Johanns said during a somber news conference in Lincoln.
       
TEARS AND YAWNS
       About 50 people — mostly friends of the suspects and relatives of the four bank employees and one customer who were killed — packed the 30-seat courtroom Friday. The college-age daughter of customer Evonne Tuttle, 37, wept in the hallway before the hearing and sobbed in the courtroom every time her mother’s name was mentioned.
       The suspects sat stoically throughout the hearing, one of them yawning several times. All asked for court-appointed attorneys.
       Hecker told the judge the suspects had planned the holdup for at least two weeks, casing the bank several times to try to determine money drops and the number of employees at certain times of the day.
       The officer then described what he saw on a bank surveillance video:
       
ANATOMY OF A CATASTROPHE
       The gunmen systematically spread out as they came in, two going to offices on either side of the entrance. The third went to the tellers’ counter, where Tuttle was among the first to be shot. The gunmen then hurdled the counter. The slayings of the four others — all bank employees — are not visible on the tape.
       Another customer was wounded in the shoulder by gunfire, while two employees were unharmed.
       Hecker said the suspects planned to steal the vehicle of one of the victims. Instead, police say, the three gunmen ran away and stole a car at gunpoint from an elderly couple after breaking into their home. Witnesses outside the bank said the suspects were wearing stocking caps, possibly ski masks, and dark, baggy clothes.
       The suspects were identified as Jose Sandoval, 23, Jorge Galindo, 21, Erick Fernando Vela, 21, and Gabriel Rodriguez, 26.
       Investigators said they believed Rodriguez had been posted outside the bank in his car until the robbery went awry and he drove off.
       
THE VICTIMS

The employees killed were Lola Elwood, 43, Jo Mausbach, 42, Lisa Bryant, 29, and Samuel Sun, 50.
       No money was recovered on the men or along their suspected escape route, Norfolk Police Chief Bill Mizner said. An audit was being done at the bank to see if any money was missing.
       All the suspects have criminal records, mostly involving drugs and weapons charges. Vela was charged a week ago with carrying a concealed weapon, while Sandoval and Rodriguez spent time in prison for burglary.
       At least three of the suspects have lived in the area for years.
       Galindo, Sandoval and Rodriguez attended school in Madison, Superintendent Robert Ziegler said. He said Galindo left high school in 1998, Sandoval left in 1995 during his freshman year and Rodriguez left in 1991 after eighth grade.
       
DEATH PENALTY POSSIBLE
       The suspects all have criminal records, mostly involving drugs and weapons charges. Vela was charged a week ago with carrying a concealed weapon, while Sandoval and Rodriguez spent time in prison for burglary.
       Mayor Gordon Adams said Rodriguez apparently had abandoned the three others while they were inside the bank.

“He must have been the getaway driver and had a change of heart when he heard the gunshots,” Adams told The Associated Press.
       Mizner said investigators had identified the suspects from the bank’s surveillance tape. He said they don’t believe anyone else was involved.
       The robbery occurred shortly before 9 a.m., and the men then shot out the glass door and broke into a nearby house where they confronted the home’s residents at gunpoint and stole their car, Mizner said. No one in the home was injured.
       The suspects drove about 10 miles, ditched the vehicle and stole a pickup truck, Mizner said. Authorities tracked down the first vehicle, a Subaru Outback, by using its satellite navigation system. The men were arrested in the pickup about three hours after the robbery.
       
FRIENDS, FAMILY RECALLED

On Friday, friends and family shared memories of the victims.
       Laura Erbst, editor of the 1,500-circulation weekly Stanton Register, said Tuttle, an editorial assistant, “was awesome with customers.”
       Bryant had been married Aug. 10 and recently returned from a honeymoon in the Caribbean.
       “She was real sweet,” said Brenda Schmeichel, a high school classmate and friend. “There’s nothing bad to say about her.”
       Sun’s ex-wife, Joan Sun, said he lived for his two sons — the youngest a seventh-grader in Norfolk and the oldest a military reservist — and liked to spend time with his boys watching the Green Bay Packers.
       Elwood was an outgoing soccer mom with two children who was always willing to help others, neighbor Ed Greer said.
       Mausbach was described by friends as a private person who cherished her children, a girl in seventh grade and a boy in third grade.
       “Her kids were her life,” recalled Lori Bender, who with her husband went on a trip to Hawaii with Mausbach and her husband.
       
GUNS RECOVERED
       Three handguns were recovered on the roadside between Ewing and Clearwater, along the route that police believe the suspects fled after the robbery. Police, volunteer firefighters and volunteers on all-terrain vehicles were combing the roadsides for evidence.
       The killings stunned Norfolk, a community of 25,000 people about 90 miles northwest of Omaha that is best known as the hometown of comedian Johnny Carson.

A stray bullet had shattered a drive-through window at a Burger King next door to the bank during the robbery. No one inside was hurt.
       “I screamed and said, ‘My God, I think somebody shot the building!’” said Donna Schwager, who was working a cash register near the window. “The good Lord was looking out for me today.”
       No formal records of deaths in bank robberies are kept, but Thursday’s heist was the deadliest since June 16, 1991, when a man killed four guards at a bank of Denver. That crime remains unsolved.

 © 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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