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Utah K-9 killed by fleeing corrections officer saved 'countless' lives, police say

Police K-9 Maya, a 6-year-old Belgain Malinois from the West Jordan Police Department, was shot and killed Thursday while pursuing an armed man who worked as a Utah corrections officer. The gunman was subsequently shot and killed by police.

Police K-9 Maya, a 6-year-old Belgain Malinois from the West Jordan Police Department, was shot and killed Thursday while pursuing an armed man who worked as a Utah corrections officer. The gunman was subsequently shot and killed by police. (West Jordan Police Department )

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

WEST JORDAN — A decorated police K-9 from the West Jordan Police Department was remembered Friday as a hero.

"Last night, she saved the lives of countless officers," said West Jordan police officer Sam Winkler.

On Thursday, as officers from several agencies ran after a gunman who had already led police on three separate car chases, Zachary Tyler Alvarenga fired multiple rounds. Police K-9 Maya, a 6½-year-old Belgian Malinois who had been with the department since 2018, was hit and killed.

Eight officers from three agencies — West Jordan, South Jordan and Unified police departments — returned fire, killing Alvarenga, 25, of West Jordan.

Alvarenga was a Utah Department of Corrections officer at the time of his death and worked at the Utah State Prison, the department confirmed Friday. He had worked as a corrections officer since September.

"We express our deepest condolences to all of those impacted by the incident that occurred last night," the department said in a prepared statement.

Thursday's violent string of events began about 11 a.m. when police received a report that Alvarenga was holding a woman against her will at gunpoint. Winkler said Alvarenga and the woman "at one point worked together." It was unknown Friday whether the woman is also a corrections employee.

The woman was able to escape and run from Alvarenga. Officers located him not long after in the Jordan Landing area, near 7800 S. Bangerter Highway. When they approached him, however, he took off in his vehicle. Police stopped chasing Alvarenga due to public safety concerns.

Police located Alvarenga for a second time a short time later, and he again fled from officers, leading to a short chase that was again terminated due to public safety, Winkler said.

"While officers continued to locate the suspect, investigators learned that the suspect was able to contact family members of the female party and threaten them with a weapon," Winkler said.

Officers were then able to contact Alvarenga by phone and attempted to negotiate with him while keeping him under surveillance. However, a third car chase was soon initiated.

This time, police were able to spike the tires on Alvarenga's vehicle near 11400 S. Redwood. At that point, Alvarenga got out of his disabled vehicle and ran across the parking lot of Jordan Credit Union, 1750 W. 11400 South.

Police ran after him and released Maya to chase him down.

"While fleeing from officers, Mr. Alvarenga actually fired towards officers and (police service dog) Maya succumbed to the gunfire injuries she suffered that night. Again, she is credited with saving the lives of several officers on scene who were in pursuit of Mr. Alvarenga," Winkler said.

Whether Alvarenga was aiming for the dog or was firing randomly at the pursuing officers was not known Friday. Winkler said Maya did have a bulletproof vest issued to her, but because of how fast the dynamic situation unfolded, officers did not have time to put it on.

"It was just too quick to get her vest on," he said.

Winkler did not know Friday where Maya was shot or if the vest would have prevented her death.

Maya was known statewide for her tracking and detections skills, he said. At the Utah Peace Officer Association K-9 trials in 2021, the West Jordan Police Department took first place, largely due to Maya who walked away with numerous individual awards, he said.

In addition to her police skills, Winkler said officers simply enjoyed seeing Maya in the office each day and having her walk up to each of them looking for "loves."

"It becomes a member of your family, whether it's the handler's dog who lives with that dog 24-7, or any of us who work with ... Maya in the office and came by wanting loves every day. It becomes a big part of our family and it's a huge loss to us emotionally," he said.

Law enforcement agencies across the state offered their condolences on social media Friday.

"I am wishing continued strength for the West Jordan Police Department after one of their K-9s was killed in the line of duty. Today, I spoke with Chief Wallentine to offer support and condolences on behalf of @slcpd," Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown tweeted.

"Our hearts are broken for the loss of this hero. Our thoughts are with West Jordan Police Department, and especially Maya's handler and family. RIP Maya," tweeted Unified police.

"Our hearts break for our friends at West Jordan Police Department, and for K9 Officer Maya's handler and companion. Thank you for your service, Maya. We hope you're running and playing with all your other four legged friends. #RIP #policek9," the Summit County Sheriff's Office tweeted.

A GoFundMe campaign* was started Friday by the Jordan Credit Union to help the police department raise money to get another police dog.

Funeral services for Maya will be held Monday, Feb. 28. Winkler said the funeral will be for officers and K-9 handlers only. After the service, however, officers will take Maya on her final "patrol," which will be a procession through the streets of West Jordan. Community members are encouraged to line the streets at that time to pay their respects and honor Maya. The route of the procession will be released in the coming days.

West Valley police will be leading the officer-involved shooting investigation. Winkler said there is both body camera and dashboard camera video of the incident that will be reviewed.

* does not assure that the money deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit to the account, you should consult your own advisors and otherwise proceed at your own risk.

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Pat Reavy is a longtime police and courts reporter. He joined the team in 2021 after many years of reporting for the Deseret News


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