Chretien had been with the department for four years.
“He was a lead-by-example kind of guy,” Feathers said, describing Chretien as a very organized administrator, but “more oriented toward being out there with the officers, working the …
An off-duty Powell police sergeant heading home with his family from vacation died Wednesday when his truck and camper trailer rolled over in southwest Montana.
Sgt. Mike Chretien, 38, died at the scene of the crash on Interstate 90, near Cardwell, Mont., about 38 miles east of Butte, said Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Cal Janes. Chretien’s family suffered bumps and bruises in the crash but were spared serious injury, said Powell Police Chief Tim Feathers.
Chretien had been with the department for four years.
“He was a lead-by-example kind of guy,” Feathers said, describing Chretien as a very organized administrator, but “more oriented toward being out there with the officers, working the streets.”
One of Chretien’s best friends, Officer Michael Hall, described him as a leader “and not just because he was a sergeant.”
“He didn’t speak and tell you what he wanted and then sit in the office,” Hall said. “He’d be out just as hard, trying to be a police presence and enforce the laws and keep people safe.”
“There was no quit in the guy,” Hall said.
Chretien came to the Powell Police Department in 2007 from the College Park, Ga., Police Department, where he was also a sergeant. He was a captain in the U.S. Army from 1993 to 2000.
He and his wife, Claudette, have three children. All were with him at the time of the crash, returning from a long-planned vacation in Glacier National Park.
The Montana Highway Patrol said Chretien was driving his Ford pickup east on I-90 around 1 p.m. Wednesday when the camper began fishtailing. The truck then went into the median and rolled once, Janes said.
Everyone in the vehicle was wearing seat belts, which spared Claudette and the children from serious injury, Feathers said. Janes said speed was being investigated as a factor in the crash.
Several travelers stopped to help, including a young woman who pulled the children out of the truck and offered comfort.
“There has not been a day when I don’t wake up and your family is the first thing on my mind,” she wrote to the family in a Monday comment on the Tribune’s website.
Chretien received a Valor Award from the Wyoming Peace Officers Association for his role in rescuing a Billings man from the Super 8 Motel as it burned to the ground on Oct. 27, 2007.
One of the officers responding to the fire call, Matt McCaslin, had heard a man cry for help from inside the flaming building. McCaslin found the man unconscious near the stairs by the lobby, but he could not get the man out by himself.
Exiting the building, McCaslin found Chretien — still in the department’s training program at the time — and enlisted his help.
“He was there, and I mean, just quick to assist and do what needed to be done, without hesitation,” McCaslin said.
Together, McCaslin and Chretien were able to drag the man to safety. That man, Jason Ascheman, and his wife Meghan, were expecting their first child at the time of the fire.
“They’re expecting twins now,” McCaslin said.
Chretien led the department’s public handgun safety classes, which Feathers said were always full, and full of positive feedback from the class members. Some left comments to that effect on the Powell Police Department’s Facebook page, among dozens of fond remembrances there and on the Tribune’s site.
“Mike (Chretien) was a special man,” wrote Vicki Gibson of Powell, who took one of the handgun classes with her husband Stewart. “(Chretien) was a true professional, kind and gentle, yet sure in his profession and the job that faced him daily.”
“I never heard anybody that said they didn’t like Mike except when he had to take them to jail ... and in the end they still thanked him,” said Hall. He said the community has “come together like crazy” to support Chretien’s family.
A group of personnel from Powell Valley Hospital — where nursing student Claudette Chretien is an EMT — went to Butte to be with the family and bring them home to Powell. Hall and former Powell Police Officer Matthew Danzer, now of Bozeman, also went.
An account to help the family has been set up at Powell’s Wells Fargo Bank in Mike Chretien’s name.
“The thing that kind of struck me, just looking at pictures of him, he smiled a lot. He has kind of this affable nature about him,” Feathers said, before adding, “Don’t get me wrong, he could be stern when needed to be.”
“He was just always, always laughing,” said Hall. He recalled a caribou hunt that he, Chretien, Danzer and friend Paul Thomas embarked upon in 2009. The four hunters, though successful, became sore and weary as they hauled hundreds of pounds of caribou meat across the arctic tundra. But Hall said there was no complaining from Chretien, who dubbed the bleak landscape the “fundra” and got everyone laughing.
“It was like, ‘you’re going to have fun whether you like it or not’,” Hall said.
Chretien came to Powell looking for a better place to raise his children, Feathers said.
“He stated more than once that he loved it here — and there was no going back in his mind,” Feathers said.
“Even though Mike (Chretien) wasn’t from here, he was truly in love with the Wyoming way of life,” said fellow Sgt. Roy Eckerdt, who recalled taking Chretien and his family on a Christmas tree hunt in his first winter here.
“Seeing those Georgia children in the snow was a lot of fun,” Eckerdt said. He pledged the department’s support to the family.
“Like other places, the P.D.’s a family, so those kids just inherited 15 dads,” Eckerdt said, referring to the department’s officers.
Hall listed the things that he and Chretien had planned for the rest of this summer and fall — playing the upcoming Madden football game, a camping trip in the Big Horn Mountains, a trip to Denver to catch a Broncos or Avalanche game and hunting.
“Lots of things we were going to do,” Hall said.
He said the Friday service, slated for 10 a.m. at Northwest College’s Cabre gym, would send Chretien off right.
“He wouldn’t want lives to stop ... for him, but we know we’ve got to honor him,” Hall said.
Chretien services set for Friday
Funeral services for Powell Police Sgt. Mike Chretien will be held Friday, Aug. 12 at 10 a.m. in the Northwest College Cabre Gym in a ceremony open to the community. A reception will follow at the Wyoming Army National Guard Armory at 1102 E. Seventh St.
Cremation has taken place and there will be no graveside service.
Law enforcement agencies sending a representative are asked to contact Sgt. Roy Eckerdt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-754-2212 regarding the number of officers and vehicles attending and for more information about staging, procession and seating.
A fund for the needs of the family has been established at the Powell Wells Fargo Bank, 102 E. Second St., in the name of Mike Chretien. The family has asked that donations be made to the fund in lieu of flowers.