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Prince George's police officer, 27, dies after car crash

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 11, 2010; B01

There's a photo that shows Thomas P. Jensen wearing a Prince George's County police uniform when he was 4 years old, friends said. Sure, it was just a Halloween costume, but everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Jensen would be wearing the uniform for real.

Maybe it was because Jensen's dad was a Prince George's officer who didn't mind taking his son to work. Maybe it was because many of Jensen's friends became cops, too. Whatever the case, Jensen knew from a young age that he was meant to be a police officer, and almost as soon he was 21, he made the dream a reality.

But one day last month, Jensen, 27, was rushing to a call about a man who had gotten high on PCP and broken into a woman's apartment by throwing concrete through a window, police said. Headed south on Baltimore Avenue in College Park toward the 5200 block of Kenilworth Avenue, Jensen hit a patch of black ice near the bridge over University Boulevard, lost control of his cruiser and hit a pole. He was taken to a hospital in critical condition, and he died Tuesday night.

He is the 26th Prince George's police officer to die in the line of duty.

"It's tough, because everybody wants to say after someone dies, 'He was a good guy, he was a nice guy, he was a loving husband,' " said Kerry Watson, a vice president in the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89 and a close friend of Jensen's. "It's true this time."

Jensen had been in a medically induced coma since the crash Feb. 27, and as recently as Monday, it seemed he might recover, officers said. Friends and fellow officers stood vigil with him nightly, police said.

Police stationed outside family members' houses Wednesday said Jensen's wife, mother and father were not ready to speak to reporters.

Friends in the police department remembered Jensen as a fun-loving hockey player known for charity work and good pranks. An avid Caps fan, Jensen would decorate his colleagues' mailboxes with cutouts of Alex Ovechkin, especially if those colleagues happened to root for the rival Pittsburgh Penguins, said Paul Mazzei, an investigator at the department's District 1 station and a childhood friend of Jensen's.

Mazzei said he and Jensen were part of a group of about six friends on the force whose fathers were all police officers and played hockey. (Jensen's father, Tom Jensen, retired as a sergeant in 1998.) Jensen graduated in 2000 from DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, where for four years he cut an intimidating figure as a defenseman on the hockey team, friends said. In skates, Jensen stood nearly 6-foot-9, said Mazzei, who played goalie on the team.

"We've pretty much been a little rat pack since we were old enough to play hockey," Mazzei said. "It was kind of like one big family being a sports team, and then on top of that, kind of like being the big police family."

Among other family members, Jensen is survived by his wife, Kristelle, whom he married five months ago, friends said. The two lived together in Bowie and were "reveling in the newness of their marriage," Watson said.

Jensen, who spent his career in the department's District 1 station but aspired to be a narcotics detective, was active in charitable work, friends said. As a member of the police union's hockey team, he helped organize a benefit game in honor of Steven Gaughan, a Prince George's officer who was killed in a shootout in 2005. About three years later, he participated in the Maryland State Police's polar bear plunge, friends said.

Those things, and his devotion to his family, stand out perhaps even more than his career in police work, friends said.

"The problem is, a lot of the public just sees us as a bunch of cops. . . . They don't see that it's a husband or a son or a brother or a friend. And more than being a police officer, Tommy is those things," Watson said. "For myself, I don't really care that Tommy the police officer is gone. I care that Tommy my friend is gone."

Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

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