Bulletproof vest money donated for police dog hours before the K-9 was shot and killed

IF YOU GOWhat: Public memorial service for K-9 Deputy TanjaWhen: 11 a.m. FridayWhere: Walker County Civic Center, 10052 North Highway 27, Rock Spring, Ga.MemorialIn lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to We Ride to Provide, Inc., 15 Hunnington Place, Covington, Ga., 30016.

photo A public memorial will be held Friday morning for K-9 Tanja, a police dog that was killed last week in the line of duty in Walker County, Ga.

There's irony to a police dog's death by shotgun Friday afternoon in Walker County, Ga.

That morning, money had been donated to buy a bulletproof vest for Tanja, a Dutch shepherd the sheriff's department had for only about three months. The Hamilton County Roughnecks, the local chapter of a national motorcycle club of retired and active law enforcement personnel, raised the money.

"They had presented me an $850 check," Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said, calling the timing "an ironic, strange set of circumstances."

Sheriff's deputies will hold a memorial service for the K-9 deputy at 11 a.m. Friday at the Walker County Civic Center in Rock Spring. It will include a 10-mile-long procession on U.S. Highway 27 that will start at 10 a.m. at LaFayette High School.

"We feel like she was a deputy, even though she was obviously a K-9," Wilson said. "She was part of our family. We want to memorialize her just the same as we would a human member of our department."

Tanja was shot Friday afternoon by Steven Lee Waldemer, a 58-year-old Idaho man on parole, authorities say.

Tanja, her handler, Deputy Donnie Brown, other sheriff's deputies and state parole officers were attempting to arrest Waldemer in Menlo, Ga., on felony warrants of aggravated sexual battery.

Tanja died at the scene, and Brown sustained injuries to his jaw and neck. He was treated at Erlanger hospital and released.

Waldemer escaped unnoticed out a window. He was found about two hours later hiding in some nearby woods.

Waldemer now faces charges of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, aggravated assault on an officer and destroying a police dog, Wilson said. The death of a police dog in Georgia is a felony, with a one- to five-year sentence if convicted.

The sheriff's department had invested about $14,500 in the highly trained dog, Wilson said.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to We Ride to Provide, a Georgia nonprofit organization that holds an annual event in March to pay tribute to fallen police dogs. The event is held in Porterdale, Ga., an historic mill town of some 1,300 residents about 40 minutes east of Atlanta.

"They're not just dogs," said Holly Cripps, who founded the organization. Her husband, Jason Cripps, is Porterdale's police chief, and the couple shares their home with Beau, an 11-year-old golden retriever that served five years as a K-9.

"They're a protector to one, family to many and a friend to all people," Cripps said.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.