Officer Jason Prokop, 34, a five-year veteran of the department, was struck and killed about 3:10 a.m. by a car driven by an off-duty U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officer on the southbound freeway just south of Mira Mesa Boulevard. Prokop, who served as a combat medic during his time as a U.S. Army Ranger, had gotten out of his car to render aid to a woman he had just crashed into.
Prokop had worked as a patrol officer out of the department’s Central Division since 2007.
The name of the second motorist killed, a 21-year-old woman from Palmdale, has not yet been released.
The pileup involved four separate crashes, according to the California Highway Patrol.
The first occurred when Prokop’s silver Mazda 6 rear-ended a stalled silver Honda Accord that was stopped in a left lane of the freeway. The officer’s Mazda came to rest in the center median.
Moments later, a silver BMW, driven by a 47-year-old San Diego man, approached the scene and sideswiped the Honda. Then two more vehicles — a white GMC and a white Toyota Prius — came along and collided with each other as they tried to avoid the wreckage. Both drivers, a 24-year-old San Diego man and 23-year-old El Cajon woman, were hospitalized with minor injuries.
It was after that collision that Prokop ran from his car to try to help the Palmdale woman trapped inside the Honda he struck. He was trying to run across the freeway to a shoulder when he was hit by a blue Toyota Corolla, driven by an off-duty Customs and Border Protection officer.
The name of the federal officer was not released by the CHP.
Both Prokop and the Honda driver died at the scene.
No arrests were made, and the crashes remain under investigation. There was no immediate indication that drugs or alcohol were involved, said CHP Officer Art Athans.
Prokop’s family members who were reached by phone Saturday afternoon said they couldn’t comment for now.
During a news conference held in front of the department’s Central Division offices on Imperial Avenue early Saturday afternoon, Prokop’s commanding officer said Prokop was scheduled to work at 6 a.m. but he didn’t know if he was heading to work at the time of his death.
Capt. Mark Jones said Prokop was “a tremendous officer” who was well-liked.
“He was the type of law officer that you wanted on your command. He was a hard worker, he was humble, and did a great job,” Jones said.
Prokop was married and had two children, a toddler and an infant.
“He was a team player,” Jones said. “He was the most respectful officer I’ve ever come across. He worked hard but didn’t seek out the accolades. He just knew that his good work would get him the recognition that he deserved."
Prokop served in combat missions overseas before becoming an Army reservist. The staff sergeant was deployed for about eight months last year as a basic training drill sergeant at Fort Knox.
Fellow reservists who have served with Prokop said he was exactly the person you would have wanted to stop and help at a crash.
“The way he died speaks to his character. Helping somebody else — that’s what he was all about,” said Staff Sgt. Brandon Arnold of Rancho Cucamonga. “He served in so many ways to help people.
“He was great to be around. He always lifted up people’s spirits, even when doing the most mundane tasks,” Arnold said.
Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Rigby, who roomed with Prokop during their last deployment, said the officer traveled back and forth from his home in Arizona, where his wife and children live, when he was not working in San Diego.
“He loved his family and his wife more than any guy I know,” Rigby said.
Prokop is the sixth member of the San Diego Police Department to die within the past year.
Jones said all of officer deaths have been difficult.
“We’ll get through this but right now our focus is to help the Prokop family and police family get through this together,” he said.
On Aug. 24, off-duty officer Christopher Blakeley, 26, was killed in a motorcycle accident in the San Diego neighborhood of Palm City. He allegedly ran a red light and crashed into a truck, police said. Child abuse unit Detective Donna Williams, 52, and her 18-year-old daughter, Briana, were stabbed to death at their Rancho Peñasquitos home on July 18, allegedly by Williams’ son Brian. On Aug. 1, Officer David Hall, 41, committed suicide at his home in Clairemont. Hall was awaiting trial on drunken-driving and hit-and-run charges. A week later, on Aug. 7, Officer Jeremy Henwood, 36, was killed by a suicidal gunman who pulled alongside his patrol car in City Heights and opened fire. Henwood was a captain in the Marine reserves who had returned this year from duty in Afghanistan. He was promoted posthumously to major. Officer Christopher Wilson, 50, died Oct. 28 after he was called to a Skyline apartment to help arrest a fugitive and was met with gunfire.