May 26 • 11:26 AM

Capac native haunted by shooting similarities

May 07, 2008
CAPAC — When police officer Mark VanPoppelen heard the news that police chief Raymond Hawks got shot, he says it felt like a punch in the stomach.

He was sitting in the Rochester Police Department on April 16 waiting for a meeting to begin when one of his fellow officers came into the room and said the chief in Capac had been shot.

"It was just unbelievable," VanPoppelen, 55, says. "It was like a punch in the stomach because I had the perspective of this happening with Chief Lewis. I thought, 'My God, twice in a small town!' It is almost unheard of."

Around 2:15 p.m. on April 16, Hawks was shot twice in the torso outside of suspect Donald Burke's William G. drive residence, where he stopped to pursue a reckless driving report. St. Clair County Sheriff's deputy Tim O'Boyle was also hit by a bullet, which grazed his head. O'Boyle was treated and released the next day. Hawks remains hospitalized on a ventilator. Though he is reportedly improving, his condition remains listed as serious.

Officer Mark VanPoppelen
News of Hawks' shooting hit VanPoppelen hard. He recalls when the late Capac Police Chief William Lewis was gunned down 38 years ago at the age of 52.

A native of Capac, VanPoppelen's mom, Freeda, and dad, William, ran VanPoppelen's Drug store for years and years. Lewis' shooting was indelibly etched in the memory banks of the 1970 Capac High School graduate. He remembers Chief Lewis from his teenage years.

"He was a very fair officer and had a lot of patience with teenagers 'back in the day," VanPoppelen says. So he was stunned and saddened when he learned he'd been shot.

"In a small town news hits quite fast and I remember that afternoon," VanPoppelen says.

Lewis and fellow officer the late Glen Burk, on April 29, 1970, were summoned to assist Memphis police with a barricaded gunman on Belle River Road. Burk, in a 2001 interview with the Tri-City Times, said the man had been shooting wildly at police and had hit and wounded the Memphis chief.

Burk said police returned fire from strategic locations around the home. He and Lewis were standing beside each other behind a tree when Lewis got hit. The bullet ricocheted off the tree, Burk said.

"He was killed instantly," Burk said in 2001. "He was my chief. It was very, very upsetting."

When VanPoppelen learned about what happened to Hawks, he knew the community would be reeling.

"Obviously in small community a tragedy like that has a greater impact than in a more populous area," VanPoppelen says. "Even though Capac has changed a lot, it's still a small town and certainly everyone knows everyone and people have a relationship with Chief Hawks, pretty much the same as it was with Chief Lewis."

VanPoppelen, who left Capac 30 years ago, remembers his own relationship with Hawks, though it wasn't a personal one. Hawks' prowess on the Capac High School basketball court in the early 1960s was legendary, VanPoppelen says.

"As an elementary school-aged kid, my friends and I went to all the games," he says. "I remember on the playground a group of us boys would always (pretend to) be one of those guys on the high school team. In a small town like that they were icons."

VanPoppelen, who graduated with a degree in education from Oakland University, has been a police officer for 25 years. Fate may have played a role in shifting his career path.

"There was a lack of teaching jobs and at the time I was working part-time as a dispatcher at Oakland University," VanPoppelen says. "The chief approached me and asked if I'd ever given law enforcement a thought as a career."

VanPoppelen says he hadn't, but the chief thought he'd make a good cop.

"Apparently he saw some qualities there," he says.

Because the law enforcement community is generally tight knit, VanPoppelen was moved to express his concern about Hawks and what was happening in his home town.

He says he noticed some eerie similarities between the shootings, which happened almost two decades apart.

"Both took place on a Wednesday afternoon in April between 2:15-2:45 p.m.," VanPoppelen says. "Both were shot as a result of a traffic ticket and longstanding grudge, though the grudge in Memphis was directed at their chief. They were both shot by a middle aged, unemployed male."

The pretrial for Hawks' suspected shooter, Donald Burke, 50, was postponed due to Burke's hospitalization. He faces multiple charges related to the shooting, and remains jailed on $3 million bond.

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