From backseat births to murder, retiring officer has seen plenty
by Lauren Harkawik
Dec 28, 2017 | 4497 views | 1 1 comments | 74 74 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rich Werner
Richard Werner and McGruff the Crime Dog spoke to students at Dover School in this undated file photo.
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DOVER - After 30 years on the Dover police force, Detective Richard Werner is retiring this week. Werner, who says he’s always been interested in emergency management, started working with the Newfane fire department at 15. After graduating from Leland & Grey, he worked with Rescue Inc. in Brattleboro before taking a position with the fire department in Old Town, ME. Missing Vermont and drawn to the excitement of the police department, he began applying for police department positions in Vermont. He worked for the Windham County Sheriff’s Department for two years before he became a full-time officer in Dover in 1987.

He once applied for, and got, a police chief position in Bellows Falls, but ultimately turned it down. “That was probably the best decision I’ve made,” he says.

It can be hard to sum up a career; it’s inevitable that the big headlines will get glossed over. But reflecting back on it all, certain moments stand out for Werner. There are, of course, the big policing moments. The comptroller at Mount Snow who embezzled over several years; a clerk at Mount Snow who stole by staging faulty transactions; the Grega homicide at Timber Creek. “We’ve handled some pretty big cases,” says Werner.

Then there are the moments when his keen eye for detail came into play. He was once driving past a house and noticed a car that “just didn’t look right” parked in front. He slowed down and noticed the front door was open and a robbery was in progress. Another time, he was driving through the parking lot of the Snow Barn when he noticed that in a nearby car, two heads disappeared from view at the same time. “I said, they’re doing cocaine in that car,” he says. It turns out, there were two people in the back of the car with a mirror and some cocaine on the seat between them.

And there are human moments, too, both heartbreaking and uplifting. After Tropical Storm Irene, Werner discovered the body of Ivana Taseva in a field. Taseva drowned when the waters of Route 100 rose with rapidity during the flood. “As I started to walk over, I said ‘Oh God, I know what this is,’” he says. Unable to get a medical examiner or an ambulance in the immediate aftermath of the storm, Werner transported her body to the funeral home himself in his truck. Another time, while out bowling one night, someone ran over and told Werner his friend needed help. “I took one look at him and said, he doesn’t need help, he’s dead.” But Werner was able to resuscitate the man. “I think I was able to save him because I was there so fast,” he says. In Maine, he was getting ready to transport a laboring pregnant woman to the hospital when her husband, who only spoke Chinese, gestured wildly at her legs. Werner took a look and saw that the baby’s head was emerging. “I said to my partner, ‘we’re screwed,’” he says with a laugh. A baby girl was born a short while later, and Werner was given a pink stork pin to add to his uniform.

More than the investigations, it’s the stories about people that he focuses on the most, the civilians he’s encountered in the line of duty and the people he’s worked alongside. In the course of an hourlong conversation about his impending retirement, Werner drops in at least 30 names of people who have made a difference over the course of his work here. The co-workers, the medical examiners, the state’s attorneys, the members of the community, the members of the selectboard.

“I appreciate everything that anybody has ever done for me to help me out,” says Werner. “I’ve gotten to work with a bunch of really great people, in a really great town, for a really great department. And I’m really thankful for that.”

Police Chief Randy Johnson, who started working for the Dover Police Department a few years before Werner, says he regards Werner as a dear friend, noting how the pair have been there for one another in times of personal challenge, loss, and success. “And that’s not just for me,” Johnson says. “I always tell people, ‘there is nothing Richard wouldn’t do for the people in his life.’”

Moreover, Johnson talks about Werner’s intelligence and dedication to his work. “No matter what the call was, if it was dangerous, if it wasn’t, if it was on a day he was supposed to be off, he’d come in,” says Johnson. “He was always willing to be there. He’s extremely dedicated.”

Johnson says it’s hard to isolate moments or sum up a working relationship that he still feels is in progress. There is one story Johnson recalls, though, which he talks about with a twinge of dark humor. “I almost shot him once,” he says, remembering a time when the pair responded to a call at a house that had fallen into disrepair. “Richard went through the door first and as he opened it, a snake fell onto him from above the doorway.” Johnson recoils like he has the heebie-jeebies. “I hate snakes,” he says. “Hate them. So I always say he’s lucky I didn’t shoot him so I could shoot that snake.”

In stories like this one — the ones with humor, the ones that encapsulate moments of levity shared between professionals — it’s the camaraderie that shines through. Johnson and Werner are two of four pillars of continuity the Dover Police force has had over the past few decades, including chief Bobby Edwards, who retired in 2013 after 36 years of service, and office manager Michelle Mann. “I wish me, Randy, Bobby, and Shelly all could have all retired together as a group, like the four musketeers,” says Werner. “The core four. They’ve been great friends and have been great to work with.”

Johnson calls Werner an asset to the community. In addition to detective, Werner holds several other titles in the town. He’s the town’s fire chief, the chair of the town’s two school boards, and the town’s emergency coordinator. “He is so smart, and he investigates so thoroughly,” Johnson says. “He has encyclopedic knowledge of so many things. The best thing the town can possibly do is to keep him as involved as possible through the fire department, the school boards, and especially through emergency management. The way he handled Irene was incredible.”

Werner says he too hopes to be around for a while. “I’m not going away,” he says. He’s excited about the work he’s doing with the River Valleys School District, forming a new district with Wardsboro and figuring out how it will all work. He also runs a business, W&B Management. He’ll be at no loss for things to do. “But I am really sad to be leaving the police department,” he says. “For 30 years, working for the Dover police has been my focus. I’m really sad to be leaving. And the worst thing is, they’re going to be just fine without me.”

Werner is the town’s death investigator and will continue to help with death investigations as needed until someone else in the town becomes certified as the death investigator. Johnson says it’s a process that will take some time. As for who will fill Werner’s shoes, Johnson says he will appoint a new detective in time. “But we can never replace Richard,” he says. “With his skills and his knowledge, he will absolutely be missed.”
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Debbie Reilly
December 28, 2017
Mr Werner is a bit confused about discovering the body of Ivava Taseva, My husband, Jim Reilly, is the one that noticed her body and directed Mr Werner to the ball field at DVES.

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