The widow of a Federal Way police officer who died from a heart attack at a shooting scene in March is fighting the state's denial of survivor's benefits for her and her three children.
Vanessa Walsh of Puyallup has asked the state Department of Labor & Industries to reconsider its decision that she does not qualify for pension benefits because her husband, 34-year-old Brian M. Walsh, died while performing “the normal and expected duties of a police officer.”
“I was pretty shocked when I found out we weren’t covered because of the way it happened,” Vanessa Walsh said Monday. “I think I’m still dumbfounded that we’re not covered. Part of me is angry.”
The state is allowed to pay benefits to a surviving spouse or children if a person’s death is “related to an industrial injury or an occupational disease,” said Elaine Fischer, a spokeswoman for Labor & Industries.
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In the case of a heart attack, state law requires “it must show a direct link between the heart attack and some unusual physical or emotional exertion that’s not normally expected in that person’s job,” Fischer said.
Vanessa Walsh, 33, has three children – a 12-year-old daughter, a 4-year-old son, and a 6-week-old daughter. Her husband had been a police officer for eight years, the last four in Federal Way.
Her lawyer, Mark Wagner of Tacoma, said she is entitled to survivor’s benefits because her husband suffered a heart attack in a situation of “unusual exertion,” meeting the standard required by law. Wagner said the exertion was stress-related, not physical.
“I think unusual exertion is the emotional stress situation he was put in,” he said.
The benefits, if approved, would have been significant :
• A monthly pension of $3,850.20, or $46,202.40 annually (60 percent of Brian Walsh’s monthly salary of $6,417).
• $128.34 a month for each of the Walshes’ three children (2 percent of Walsh’s monthly salary) until they turn 18.
• A one-time payment of $4,000 immediately after the death and about $7,000 for the officer’s burial.
The Federal Way Police Officers Guild previously set up a memorial fund for Walsh and her children at Key Bank branches. Cmdr. Chris Norman declined to say exactly how much has been raised but said the total is less than two months of Brian Walsh’s salary.
Brian Walsh suffered a heart attack and died March 21 while maintaining a perimeter around a shooting scene, the King County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled.
He was found unresponsive in his patrol car around 6:45 a.m. He had responded to the 33300 block of 26th Avenue Southwest to help other officers investigating an officer-involved shooting in the area.
The shooting happened when officers were investigating a stolen SUV. The driver took off, ramming three patrol cars. Two officers shot at the fleeing SUV, wounding the 17-year-old driver in the arm.
The Federal Way boy, now 18, was arrested and pleaded guilty last month and was sentenced to about 2½ years in custody at a juvenile facility.
Wagner said Walsh was in excellent health and had not complained of any medical conditions or symptoms prior to his death.