Walter Kent Mundell Jr. was not someone easily forgotten.
The late Pierce County sheriff’s deputy made an impression nearly everywhere he went, from the meth labs he helped clean up in East Pierce County to the BMX tracks around the west where he cheered raucously for his kids and those of his friends.
Those who knew him well and those who knew him only in passing said the 44-year-old Mundell – who went by Kent – lived his life with a contagious verve.
“The guy was not just a friend, he was an experience,” Dave Buffelen, who worked with Mundell at Milgard Windows & Doors in Fife nearly a decade ago, said last week. “He was bigger than life.”
Bullets from a drunken man’s gun cut that life short Dec. 21, leaving Mundell’s relatives, colleagues, friends and acquaintances with a sense of disbelief and loss that won’t soon heal.
“No words can explain the hole that has been left in our department,” the Pierce County Deputy Sheriffs Independent Guild wrote on its Web site after Mundell succumbed to his wounds Dec. 28. “We will never get to see that ever-sparkling smile again. We will never hear that overpowering laugh or feel the warmth of friendship that magically surrounded him.”
Tacoma police officer Les Belford, who befriended Mundell not long after the late deputy entered law enforcement in 2000, described Mundell this way: “The guy was probably one of the most human people you would meet. Most people would never get the idea he was a cop.”
Mundell was born in Killeen, Texas, in November 1965.
He spent the first few years of his life in Texas before moving “all over the world” while his father, Walter Kent Mundell Sr., pursued a career in the federal government, the fallen deputy’s stepmother, Dorene Mundell, told The News Tribune.
Mundell eventually landed in the Puyallup area and graduated from Rogers High School in the early 1980s.
He developed a reputation for loquaciousness early.
Teachers noted on report cards that he “talks excessively” and “is a very sociable person,” Mundell’s stepbrother, Mark Stafford, told The News Tribune.
“My brother loved people,” Stafford said.
Mundell’s obsession with conversation followed him into adulthood, those who knew him said.
Patrons of the Puyallup gym where he and Belford worked out came to realize they’d be exercising their jaws and not much else when Mundell was in the house.
“It was always a standing joke that whenever Kent came around you were not going to get a workout in,” Belford said. “He would want to talk.”
Mundell married his high school sweetheart, Lisa, in 1986, and they had two children, Kirsten, now 16; and Austin, now 10.
He eventually took a job at the Milgard manufacturing plant in Fife, working there from about 1990 to 1999. He rose through the ranks quickly, eventually becoming production manager.
“He was extremely passionate and focused,” said Steve Palmer, who worked with Mundell at Milgard. “That’s a nice way of saying he was high-strung and hard-driven.”
Mundell also was “funny as all hell,” cracking up co-workers with practical jokes or stories of his adventurous life outside the plant, Palmer said.
Palmer was the butt of one of those jokes. He’d been terrorizing a colleague for several weeks – hiding his tools, painting them pink – when Mundell called him in for a talk.
“Kent told me he was going to fire me over it,” Palmer recalled. “Of course, I was appalled that it had come to that.”
Mundell let Palmer sweat for a few minutes before springing the joke.
“Finally, he said, ‘Ha, gotcha!’” Palmer said. “We all had a good laugh about it.”
Mundell was enjoying a successful career at Milgard and garnering attention from companies that wanted to hire him away when he decided to make a change – a big one.
He announced to his family in 1999 that he was leaving the plastics industry and entering the state’s law enforcement academy with the aim of becoming a deputy sheriff. He was 34.
Stafford said the decision was a bit of a surprise but that a career in law enforcement matched Mundell’s personality.
Mundell was a thrill-seeker who enjoyed high-adrenaline activities including flying airplanes, skydiving, scuba diving, snow skiing and riding motorcycles.
One of his favorite stories was about the time he crash-landed a small plane with engine trouble in a field outside Orting, Stafford said.
“If it was you or I that crash-landed our airplane, we’d probably be full of fear and maybe quit flying,” he said. “Not Kent. He walked away from it smiling and joking and saying, ‘Wow, that was really cool.’
“His motto was, ‘If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.’”
Mundell also enjoyed being around people, teaching them and learning from them, Stafford said.
“Being a police officer gave him the opportunity to have a new adventure every day, and he wanted to help people,” he said.
The academy wasn’t easy for Mundell, especially the physical requirements, said his mother, Patricia Stafford. But her son was not one to give up easily.
“He really had to work hard to get through the physical part of the academy, but he did it,” she said. “He loved the sense of accomplishment.”
In his nearly 10 years with the Sheriff’s Department, Mundell worked as a patrol deputy in the South Hill and Mountain detachments, was assigned to the air operations and drug-lab teams, and served as a safety department representative.
“He enjoyed every minute of it,” said his mother, who remarried after being divorced from Mundell’s father.
Detective Sgt. Dave Dewey supervised Mundell on the lab team, where he was certified to enter “hot zones” to clean up toxic chemicals used to make methamphetamine. Dewey said Mundell was a technically sound member of the team.
“He was real strong, real dependable,” Dewey said. “You didn’t have to tell him twice about how to do things.”
Mundell also helped ease the often monotonous and strenuous work – a cleanup can take eight hours – with a quip or a joke, Dewey said.
“Morale can fade fast as the hours go on,” he said. “Kent always had a smile on his face and made light of things. I don’t think he did that out of a sense that he should do it. I think that was just him.”
PROUD OF HIS KIDS
Mundell also enjoyed life outside his job.
He camped. He boated. He fished.
He drove his children across the region, so they could compete in BMX bicycle races.
Relatives and friends said he was a devoted family man who loved his children above all else.
“He really put work into his kids,” Belford said. “He was very proud of them.”
That work showed, said Dan Bushnell, who coaches the Mundell children in BMX.
“The whole family is just a wonderful family,” Bushnell said. “You can count on them for whatever you need.”
Videos taken at BMX races around the region and posted on YouTube show Mundell – calling himself “the nervous dad” – cheering for his children and their friends.
“He always had a smile on his face,” Bushnell said. “I’ve never seen him upset. Even when he said he was upset, I couldn’t tell it.”
Diane Brooks Molloy recently wrote a post about Mundell on a Facebook page set up in remembrance of him.
She ran into him in mid-December at a movie theater where her daughter works, Molloy wrote. Mundell sometimes provided security at the theater.
“I’m thankful that the last memory we have of Kent is one of him as his usual energetic and gregarious self,” Molloy wrote. “He was rushing off to take care of an important duty with a big smile on his face.”
‘DOING WHAT I HAVE TO DO’
A week later, Mundell was mortally wounded while attending to his duty as a deputy.
He and sheriff’s Sgt. Nicholas Hausner, 43, were dispatched to a small house outside Eatonville to remove a “drunk and belligerent” David Edward Crable from Crable’s brother’s home.
The 35-year-old Crable had calmed down by the time the deputies arrived and agreed to leave with them and accept a ride out of the area, authorities said. Hausner and Mundell did not intend to arrest him.
Crable apparently changed his mind about going quietly, pulled out a gun and shot Hausner in the neck before turning on Mundell. Hausner since has been released from the hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.
Mundell pulled out his weapon and exchanged fire with Crable at close range. Both men were hit multiple times. Crable died at the scene. Mundell lived for a week on life support before dying.
Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said recently that investigators believe Mundell prevented further bloodshed by killing Crable, who detectives suspect might have intended to kill the other occupants of the house before finishing off Hausner.
Buffelen, Mundell’s former colleague at Milgard, said he wasn’t surprised Mundell defended himself and the others in the house that night.
“It was just like him to stop Crable and just like him to save everybody,” Buffelen said.
Patricia Stafford said her son understood the dangers of law enforcement.
One day four or five years ago, mother and son sat at the kitchen table for a talk. Stafford recalled her son telling her he might be killed on the job.
“I asked him if he was scared,” she recalled. “He said, ‘You have to live life. You can’t do it in fear.’”
Mundell also said he didn’t want to be remembered as a hero should the worst happen, Stafford said.
“Other people will consider it heroic,” he told his mother. “But it really won’t be. I’ll just be doing what I have to do.”
Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644
Staff writer Stacey Mulick contributed to this report.
Kent Mundell had a colorful career with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
High-speed chases, confrontations with armed felons and shows of compassion toward victims marked the late deputy’s nearly 10-year career, according to a synopsis of some of his reports released by the sheriff’s department.
A few highlights:
• On Sept. 12, 2009, Mundell was the first deputy to respond to a 911 call from a tavern on the Kapowsin Highway in Graham. He found a drunken man bleeding from the head passed out on the sidewalk outside.
Mundell interview some tavern patrons, who said the man had threatened them with a gun. One said he’d clocked the gunman in the back of the head with a billiard ball and secured the gun until deputies arrived.
“Hearing what happened, I congratulated (him) on having a great arm and had him complete a handwritten statement form,” Mundell wrote in his report.
• On Oct. 7, 2007, Mundell was on patrol when he spotted a car parked at the Lake Kapowsin boat ramp.
A man sleeping inside the car took off running when Mundell stopped to investigate. Mundell gave chase only to see the man jump into the lake and start swimming. Mundell and an Eatonville police officer dispatched to help him eventually borrowed a small boat from a nearby rental company and rowed into the lake where they threw the man a life preserver.
He surrendered when a larger sheriff’s department boat arrived and motored out to him.
• On May 17, Mundell was sent to investigate reports of three children living in a camping trailer in the Graham area.
He noted there was no bathroom or running water in the trailer and that the only food was a jar of peanut butter and half loaf of bread. He called in state social workers who took the kids into protective custody.
• On Dec. 6, 2006, Mundell was on patrol when he stopped a speeding car.
The driver jumped out and ran toward a nearby house. Mundell caught up the man on the porch and ordered him to show his hands. The man began yelling obscenities and digging around in his pants pockets.
“I then used language (he) would understand, swearing at him and telling him to show me his hands or he might be shot,” Mundell wrote in his report. The man eventually pulled a gun from his pants, threw it to Mundell and surrendered.