Woman to join State Pa­trol in honor of her slain fa­ther

Tri-City Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY SARA SCHILLING ss­[email protected]­i­ty­her­ald.com

Me­gan Saun­ders didn’t get much time with her fa­ther.

She was only 2 when the vet­eran state trooper was mur­dered dur­ing a traf­fic stop in Pasco.

But in the two decades since that aw­ful night, Me­gan hasn’t for­got­ten him — far from it.

In fact, she’s about to em­bark on a ca­reer that hon­ors his mem­ory.

Me­gan is join­ing the Wash­ing­ton State Pa­trol’s gov­ern­ment and me­dia re­la­tions depart­ment this spring af­ter she grad­u­ates from the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton. It’s the same agency her dad, James, was part of.

“I feel re­ally, re­ally blessed that it all worked out,” Me­gan said in a phone in­ter­view from Seat­tle. “I’m just re­ally ex­cited for what the fu­ture holds.”

James Saun­ders, 31, was fa­tally shot at 9 p.m. Oct. 7, 1999 af­ter pulling over a pickup at Road 28 and West Lewis Street in Pasco. The trooper for nearly nine years was part of the state pa­trol’s Ken­newick de­tach­ment.

His killer, Ni­co­las S. Vasquez, drove off, but was caught af­ter a 26-hour man­hunt. He’s serv­ing a life sen­tence at the Wash­ing­ton State Pen­i­ten­tiary in Walla Walla.

Although Saun­ders’ life was cut short, he made a mark in the Tri-Cities, leav­ing be­hind a le­gion of friends and ad­mir­ers. About 3,000 peo­ple at­tended his memo­rial ser­vice in Kenne-

wick. Among them were 2,000 law en­force­ment of­fi­cers from around the coun­try, plus then-Gov. Gary Locke and the chief of the Wash­ing­ton State Pa­trol.

Friends talked about his tow­er­ing height, his good hu­mor and his self­less­ness.

“In these days of, ‘What’s in it for me?’ or, ‘It’s not my fault,’ it was truly a plea­sure to know Jim,” a su­per­vi­sor said at the ser­vice.

Saun­ders also was de­voted to his fam­ily. Along with tod­dler Me­gan, he and his wife, Bil­lie, were ex­pect­ing a baby.

A son, Jim, named for the fa­ther he never got to meet, was born about four months af­ter Saun­ders died.

Saun­ders’ wife and kids stayed in the Tri-Cities for a time, even­tu­ally mov­ing to the Seat­tle area.

Bil­lie made sure her kids knew their dad through sto­ries and mem­o­ries, said Me­gan, adding that “she did a great job of keep­ing my dad’s legacy alive.”

James Saun­ders’ state pa­trol col­leagues also were a strong and steady pres­ence, show­ing up for birthdays, grad­u­a­tions, Me­gan said.

“It’s hard to fill that void of not hav­ing my dad, but they’ve been there for me,” she said.

The pa­trol wouldn’t have it any other way, said Capt. Mon­ica Alexan­der, who’ll be Me­gan’s boss.

“When a trooper is killed, it’s a ter­ri­ble thing for all of us. I re­mem­ber ex­actly where I was when I heard he was killed. Even if you don’t know him, you’re con­nected to him,” said Alexan­der, whose hus­band grad­u­ated from the academy with Saun­ders.

Although Alexan­der has a per­sonal con­nec­tion to the Saun­ders fam­ily, Me­gan earned the po­si­tion on her own mer­its, Alexan­der said. She had to meet all the job re­quire­ments, nail an in­ten­sive in­ter­view and pass a poly­graph test and a back­ground check.

With Me­gan, “we’re get­ting an ex­cep­tional em­ployee,” Alexan­der said.

And one who un­der­stands and val­ues the state pa­trol’s mis­sion.

As a com­mu­ni­ca­tions co­or­di­na­tor, Me­gan will blog and man­age so­cial me­dia, among other du­ties.

She’s set to grad­u­ate from the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton with a de­gree in com­mu­ni­ca­tion at the end of March.

Her younger brother also at­tends the school — he’s a fresh­man. Me­gan said he hasn’t yet set­tled on a ma­jor.

Me­gan starts her new job in April. It’s a busy time, an ex­cit­ing time.

And a deeply mean­ing­ful one.

“(My fa­ther) ded­i­cated his life to the pa­trol. It was a re­ally, re­ally big part of his life,” she said. “I’m grate­ful they of­fered me this po­si­tion — that I’m able to work for the same or­ga­ni­za­tion as my dad and carry his legacy on.”

Cour­tesy of Me­gan Saun­ders

Me­gan Saun­ders is shown with her dad, State Pa­trol Trooper James Saun­ders, who was killed dur­ing a traf­fic stop when she was 2.

Cour­tesy of Me­gan Saun­ders

Me­gan Saun­ders is shown at her high school grad­u­a­tion with some of her late fa­ther’s Wash­ing­ton State Pa­trol col­leagues. They have “done a great job of be­ing there for me” af­ter his death she said.

JACKIE JOHN­STON AP

Mem­bers of the Wash­ing­ton State Pa­trol salute as the fam­ily of slain Trooper James Saun­ders ar­rive in Ken­newick for his memo­rial ser­vice in Oc­to­ber 1999.

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