At a Super Bowl party he hosted 15 years ago, King County Sheriff’s Deputy Reginald “Reggie” Thomas started a betting pool that had nothing to do with football.
Thomas, who was a neat freak, took bets on how long it would take his friend and fellow deputy Brian Taylor to spill his beer or drop food on the carpet.
“Everybody put money in the pot,” Taylor, who was oblivious about the nature of the bet at the time, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I’m on his couch and I kick over my beer and the whole room went crazy.”
The Super Bowl bet would become an annual tradition.
Taylor, 51, was the “messy younger brother” to Thomas, 56, and retired Deputy Carlos Bratcher, 59. The trio of Black sheriff’s deputies — who called themselves “The Three Stooges” — became family over the nearly three decades they worked together.
Thomas, a two-time All-America basketball player who later served as a Korean linguist in the U.S. Army, was a 30-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office and planned to retire next spring.
On Aug. 29, Thomas, who was most recently assigned to Metro Transit Police, suffered a massive stroke and crashed his patrol SUV into a parked car in Georgetown, killing Seattle attorney Sarah Leyrer, 41, and her cat, Yeller.
Leyrer, who suffered a blunt-force injury to her head, died at the scene along a commercial stretch of Airport Way South. The King County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled her death an accident.
Thomas was extricated from his vehicle and taken to Harborview Medical Center, where his condition steadily worsened and he was put into a medically induced coma, said Taylor. After doctors determined Thomas had suffered extensive brain damage from a large blood clot and would never talk or walk again, he was moved into hospice care in his Federal Way home last week.
He died at 3 a.m. Monday with Taylor, Bratcher and his mother, Ruth Daniel of Danville, Virginia, by his side.
“It was very peaceful. He took three deep breaths and passed away,” said Taylor, who helped shave and bathe Thomas in the days before his death. “The hardest thing about taking care of him was seeing him in that condition. He’s always been such a strong, healthy guy so it’s shocking this happened to him.”
In a gesture Taylor called “a bit of grace,” Leyrer’s husband, Mike Katell, sent a condolence card to Daniel.
“I am holding it together,” Katell said by phone Tuesday, crediting his family, Leyrer’s family and the couple’s large circle of friends for supporting him through the aftermath of his wife’s death. “Obviously it’s very tragic for their family as it is for ours. We wanted to let his mother know we shared in this grief together.”
On the morning of the crash, Katell and Leyrer took Yeller, a cat Leyrer had rescued a decade earlier when she was working for Columbia Legal Services in Eastern Washington, to a vet in White Center, Katell said.
On their way home to Beacon Hill, they stopped at a pet store in Georgetown to pick up Yeller’s medication.
“Sarah stayed in the car with the cat on her lap,” he said. “I was just a few seconds out of the car and had just stepped into the store when I heard the crash.”
As Leyrer’s father put it, “It was like a lightning bolt from a clear blue sky,” said Katell, who married Leyrer in 2013.
Leyrer, who was born in Seattle, grew up in Kirkland and attended Denison University in Ohio. She was a graduate of Seattle University School of Law. A former attorney with Columbia Legal Services, she was a senior investigator with the Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards at the time of her death. Her obituary ran in The Seattle Times on Sunday.
As a foreign exchange student, first in Uruguay and later in Argentina, Leyrer, who spoke fluent Spanish, was drawn to social-justice work on behalf of workers and immigrants, her husband said.
“Sarah was a very caring person. A lot of that heart was just who she was,” Katell said. “By getting out of the U.S. and understanding the complexities of the world and witnessing poverty firsthand, she gained a valuable perspective she brought into her work.”
That perspective also carried over into her personal life, with Leyrer volunteering with a number of organizations, including the Northwest Justice Project and La Resistencia, an advocacy group for immigrants detained at the federal Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
“She was also just a lot of fun,” Katell said of his wife, who loved the outdoors. “She lived life to the fullest. She was kind of the whole package.”
Like Leyrer, Thomas cared deeply about the community and was an advocate for racial and social justice, said Bratcher, a former vice chairman of the National Black Police Association.
“We had two good (public) servants taken away simultaneously,” Bratcher said of Leyrer and Thomas. “It’s been a very long, rough week.”
Thomas spent his Friday nights for the past 20 years volunteering with Burien’s Teen Late Night Program, held at Sylvester Middle School. Teens who participated in the program held a candlelight vigil for Thomas outside the school Monday night.
“It was such a joy to see them honoring him. It was a wonderful tribute,” Bratcher said of the vigil.
Though Thomas, who was an only child, never married or had children of his own, he was passionate about kids and wanted to be a positive influence in their lives, his friends said. One mother told Taylor that after her 9-year-old son ran away, Thomas would often drop by the family’s house to play basketball or video games with the boy.
Raised in Danville, Virginia, Thomas played basketball for Roanoke College, starting as a sophomore off-guard for the team that made the 1983 Division III final four and earned Thomas first-team All-America honors the following two seasons, according to a story published Monday by The Roanoke Times.
Thomas’ No. 20 jersey was retired by the school; he was inducted into the Roanoke College hall of fame and made the program’s all-century team, the newspaper reported.
Like Bratcher, who is from Delaware, and Taylor, who is from Michigan, Thomas served in the U.S. Army and was stationed at Fort Lewis, now known as Joint Base Lewis McCord, and transitioned into law enforcement after leaving the military.
As a cop, Thomas was a consummate professional, Taylor and Bratcher said.
“Nobody could get him rattled. He could calm any situation down so you loved seeing him show up” to a call, Taylor said. “He was always even-keeled.“
When Taylor joined the Sheriff’s Office in 1995, there were only 60 Black deputies on the force and Bratcher and Thomas quickly took Taylor under their wing, cluing him in to the office’s racial tensions.
Deputies of color and female deputies were subjected to racist and misogynistic jokes from their white male colleagues, said Taylor. As a young detective, he remembers getting up from his desk to retrieve a printout and a white detective yelled “for everyone to hide their valuables,” he said.
Bratcher, Thomas and Taylor were able to vent to each other about the racism they experienced — and when something happened, one of them would text the other two, “I have some (expletive) to tell you,” said Taylor.
After the three men became friends, their parents also became friends, creating an extended family along with Bratcher and Taylor’s wives and children.
“We just felt a bond with each other,” said Bratcher.
The three men met for dinner every month, sometimes inviting others along. The coronavirus pandemic put a stop to their outings for a few months, but they got together at a Tukwila restaurant six days before Thomas’ stroke. Bratcher and Taylor will accompany Thomas’ mother home to Virginia next week to plan Thomas’ funeral.
“He was a caring person, so he demonstrated empathy easily. Some cops struggle with that but it was never a problem for him,” Bratcher said of his friend. “Outside of work, he was a fun-loving guy. He was a very generous, true friend and a man who was honorable and humble at the same time.”