MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – A memorial service is being planned for Friday for the Rutland city police dog killed late Tuesday night while its handler was trying to stop a fleeing vehicle carrying four Connecticut men.

Rutland Police Lt. Kevin Geno said the German shepherd King Luther was hit and killed by a state police cruiser after jumping out of an officer’s stopped cruiser along U.S. Route 7. Officer Frank Post had stopped to lay spike strips in the roadway to stop a car carrying suspects involved in a shooting in Leicester.

It was believed to be the first time in the roughly three decades that police dogs have been used in Vermont that an animal has been killed in the line of duty, said Robert Ryan, the canine training coordinator at the Vermont Police Academy in Pittsford.

“It’s just like losing a family member or another police officer,” Ryan said.

Post was trying to set the spike strips and there was a lot of noise from the cruiser’s radio, Geno said. Post did not realize the dog had gotten out of the car until after the cruiser that hit King Luther had gone by, Geno said.

“The dog is trained to come out through the front window,” Geno said Wednesday. “The dog sensed the handler was in some sort of need and so got out of the vehicle. Nobody did anything wrong, it was just an accident.”

Geno said the 3-year-old King Luther had been with the department for about a year.

“It’s a very sad day,” Geno said.

Geno said he’d been told that most police dogs that die in the line of duty in the United States are killed by automobiles.

“They’re always trying to protect their handlers no matter what the situation,” Geno said.

Ryan said that in some states assaulting a police dog is considered the same as assaulting a human officer, but not in Vermont. “I think it should be,” said Ryan, who has been the canine coordinator for more than three years.

Ryan said there were 38 police dogs in Vermont.

Geno said the vehicle that Post was trying to stop apparently detoured around the location where he was setting the spike strips.

The four Connecticut men in the vehicle, all from Waterbury, were apprehended later after they allegedly stole a different car that crashed into a guardrail on U.S. Route 4 in Castleton.

The suspects, who face a variety of charges, were identified as Rahe Autry, 22, George Gaston, 23, Hasan Hickey, 19, and Mark Hunter, 21. The four were being held for lack of $500,000 bail, police said.

There is a Canine Hall of Fame at the Vermont Police Academy. Ryan said the details of Friday’s ceremony were being arranged by the Rutland Police Department.

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