‘My heart is shattered for Chief Knapp ... but it also aches for this 19-year-old kid’

The Washington State Patrol’s investigation of Tuesday evening’s incident in which Interim Lynden Police Chief Michael Knapp was struck by a pickup truck while crossing Fourth Street will not change now that Knapp has died, less than 24 hours after the collision.

“It makes it much more tragic, but it does not change anything, as far as the investigation,” Trooper Heather Axtman told The Bellingham Herald Thursday, Nov. 7. “We still are not suspecting that there was any criminal activity that caused this heartbreaking event.”

Knapp, 79, was struck by a maroon 1988 Chevrolet GMT-400 while crossing the street shortly before 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Washington State Patrol release on the incident, which noted that the truck’s headlights were not on at the time of the collision.

Knapp was airlifted to Seattle from St. Joseph’s hospital at approximately 9 p.m. Tuesday, but died Wednesday, according to a release from Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

According to the State Patrol release on the incident, the driver was 19-year-old Brant J. Hilverda of Lynden. Axtman told The Herald that he stayed at the scene and cooperated with law enforcement.

“I think (Bellingham Police Lt.) Claudia Murphy put it best when I talked to her yesterday — at 5 p.m. the driver (Hilverda) was just a normal 19-year-old living a normal 19-year-old life,” Axtman said. “Fifteen minutes later, his life changed forever. He’s going to watch everything that goes with a line-of-duty death — watch all the agencies coming into town from around the country and the procession.

“That’s going to be very impactful for him and his family, and my heart breaks for him, as well. My heart is shattered for Chief Knapp, his family and all the fellow officers who have been touched by his generosity and leadership, but it also aches for this 19-year-old kid.”

Axtman said State Patrol investigators are doing their best to reconstruct exactly what happened Tuesday night so that they can learn and hopefully take steps to decrease chances other families have to experience similar heartbreak, but that can take time.

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“We’re going to go forward and investigate to the fullest extent,” Axtman told The Herald. “We’ll see what exact dynamics went down.

“Everybody is focused on the headlights and whether that could have prevented it. Sunset on Tuesday was 4:44 p.m. By state law, drivers have to have their headlights on 30 minutes after sunset. This happened at 5:15 p.m., which means it was 31 minutes after sunset.

“This driver isn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last not to have his headlights on 31 minutes after sunset. We don’t even know if that would have been a game-changer if the headlights were on, but we are going to look at it and find out what we can learn. It takes time, but both families deserve that.”

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.