Patrolman Robert E. DaFonte and Cadet James D. Watts were killed Sunday, Feb. 26.
Dover police, emergency responders and their families gathered Monday night at the city’s police station to remember two of their own, killed in a crash Sunday morning.
Patrolman Robert E. DaFonte, 23, of Hartly, and Special Enforcement Unit Cadet James D. Watts, 22, of Camden, died Feb. 26 when their vehicle hit a utility pole west of the city.
Emotions flowed freely among the crowd gathered under a giant American flag hanging from two Dover fire engines.
Portraits of the two men stood on easels between the American and city of Dover flags, each posted at half-staff. Senior members of the department, Mayor Robin Christiansen and members of the DaFonte and Watts families addressed the crowd from atop the steps.
Deputy Chief Marvin Mailey and Capt. David Spicer each spoke briefly, giving their own personal tributes to the men.
“I don’t have words, I don’t have anything that will replace the loss of your loved ones,” Mailey said to the families. “We will miss them and we will cherish them. What we need to do for this family is to wrap our arms around them and love them and support them because they are our family.”
His voice breaking, Spicer recalled his initial job interview with DaFonte, saying he quickly recognized the young man’s potential. The officer, who had been on the force for about two years, immediately lived up to his expectations.
“He hit the ground running,” Spicer said, and soon was recognized as one of the top officers on his shift.
“It was an honor to know them,” the captain added, speaking of DaFonte and Watts. “They were fine young men.”
In a final tribute, firefighter’s radios broadcast a last call for the two, identifying each by their badge numbers: 1726 for DaFonte and C-10 for Watts.
“10-7, duration,” the dispatcher said, police code for an officer going off duty. “Rest in peace.”
Dafonte and Watts were killed at about 4:05 a.m. Sunday on Hazlettville Road, east of Nault Road.
Delaware State Police said DaFonte was driving a 2016 Jeep Wrangler westbound on Hazlettville Road when he failed to take a sharp right curve and traveled off the south side of the roadway. The Jeep went down a short embankment and hit a utility pole on the driver’s side door. It continued onward, overturning and throwing Watts from the passenger seat before landing on the vehicle’s passenger side.
DaFonte was wearing his seatbelt but was pronounced dead at the scene. Watts, who was not restrained, also died at the scene.
Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman said officers in the department are relying on each other to cope with their grief.
A public outpouring of support also has buoyed the spirits of Dover’s police, he said.
“It’s been just tremendous,” Hoffman said. “We really appreciate it. I can’t tell you how much that means.”
DaFonte was the first active Dover officer to die in more than 26 years.
The Delaware State Police, which has jurisdiction in this case, is continuing its investigation into the crash.
There was no evidence at the scene that would indicate alcohol or drugs were a factor in the crash, DSP spokesman Master Cpl. Gary Fournier said Sunday night. As is standard procedure in crashes involving fatalities, toxicology tests will be conducted by the Delaware Division of Forensic Science, he said.
Research by the Dover Post has shown the curve on which the two died has been the scene of serious or fatal accidents in 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2015.