Washington State Patrol Trooper Eric Gunderson, who died from COVID-19 at age 38 last month, was unvaccinated but likely would have gotten a vaccine this fall, family members said in a statement Friday.
Gunderson was best known for leading the State Patrol’s part of the Amtrak 501 investigation, when a speeding passenger train flew off a curve at DuPont, killing three people and injuring dozens in late 2017. A detective specializing in accident reconstruction, Gunderson mapped the scene using drone footage, and was a pioneer in the use of unmanned aircraft to reduce the length of road closures after crashes, the WSP has said.
He died Sept. 26, and is the 32nd trooper to die in the line of duty, according to Chief John Batiste.
Gunderson contracted the coronavirus while traveling for work, said the family’s statement, which was issued Friday by WSP Communications Director Chris Loftis. Though State Patrol officials earlier had said Gunderson caught the virus that causes COVID-19 while on the job, they did not disclose Gunderson’s vaccination status, which prompted questions from news organizations.
Family described Gunderson — who is survived by his wife and two sons — as in peak physical condition, active in the SWAT team, and in coaching his boys. “He thought — we all thought — that Covid was something that happened to someone else. He was not in a high risk group,” the statement says.
He became sick while traveling, when travel restrictions were loosening “and there was a sense that Covid was in decline,” the family statement says. At about the same time, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a vaccine mandate, with a deadline of Oct. 18 for state workers to comply or risk termination.
Gunderson became ill and died six weeks later.
“We are quite sure he would have followed the vaccine mandate direction if he had the chance. Unfortunately, he did not,” the statement says.
The statement criticizes those who speculated, or disparaged him on social media.
“His death is a tragedy. It is not a symbol. It is not a statement. It is not a part of one side’s argument over another side’s argument. It is simply the loss of a fine husband, a wonderful father, and a busy young man to Covid.”
The statement says family members would have preferred to “let this painful part of a painful time pass,” but that The Seattle Times made an official public-disclosure request to WSP about Gunderson’s vaccination status. “The Patrol has honored our family’s wishes to keep Eric’s passing out of the political realm and to concentrate on his life of service and sacrifice.”
The Seattle Times also has requested information on how the State Patrol determined Gunderson contracted the coronavirus on the job.
Meanwhile, the WSP reported that 93% of employees showed proof of vaccination as of last week, despite a lawsuit and controversy over Inslee’s mandates. Several U.S. law enforcement agencies, including in Chicago and Seattle, show lower percentages with the possibility their ranks will be depleted by resignations or suspensions.