Sgt. Tony Wallace Remembered

Story Photo: Sgt. Tony Wallace Remembered

Sgt. Anthony Wallace was living his dream, working as a police officer in Alaska for the past four years.

A Hall of Fame wrestler while attending Rochester Institute of Technology and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Sgt. Wallace worked as a Public Safety officer from 2003 to 2006 at RIT until learning of a job with a police department in tiny Hoonah, Alaska.

An avid boater, hunter and fisherman, Sgt. Wallace packed up and moved to southeast Alaska, even though he had never visited Alaska previously. His biggest worry was how to get his fast-food fix when the nearest McDonald's was a 40-mile plane ride away from Hoonah in Juneau.

Weeks after his arrival in Alaska, he was sending friends photos of himself smiling widely, holding massive salmon he had caught and bears he had encountered. He said he found the place where he would spend the rest of his life, where he could enjoy nature and help others.

"He liked to hunt and fish so this was an ideal opportunity," said his mother, Debbie Greene, of St. Petersburg, Fla. "And working with the community and the natives, he loved it here. He always wanted to be a cop. His dad and uncle were cops. It just was something he wanted to be. And he fought even harder to become one because he was hearing impaired. People always told him he couldn't do it, but he tried even harder."

Sgt. Wallace was shot late Saturday while on duty in Hoonah. He died from his injuries after being flown to Bartlett Hospital in Juneau. He was 32. 

In Hoonah, Sgt. Wallace worked as a field training officer, an evidence officer and a breath test maintenance and training officer. The department's website states he was promoted to corporal on the day of his death and posthumously promoted to sergeant the day after his death.

Also shot and killed was Officer Todd Tokuoka, 39, who was off duty with his family but chatting with Sgt. Wallace at the time of the shooting.

After a standoff of more than a day, police arrested a 45-year-old Hoonah resident and charged him with two counts of murder. No motive has been released, but the suspect has had encounters with police in the past, reports said.

Greene, who was visiting Alaska for the first time, had just arrived Thursday and was accompanying her son on a civilian ride along when he was shot. A nurse, she ran to help him and Officer Tokuoka after she called for help on a police radio. She said her son was conscious, even though he had been shot twice.

"I held both of their hands until help arrived," she said.

Sgt. Wallace was born in Germany and was diagnosed deaf after contracting spinal meningitis, although he could hear low frequencies and could communicate well on the phone and police radio.

He grew up in Franklin, Ohio, where he was a champion wrestler in high school. In 1997, he enrolled in RIT's College of Applied Science & Technology and was supported by the NTID. He received a degree in Applied Arts and Sciences.

At RIT/NTID, Sgt. Wallace excelled at wrestling. Lou Spiotti Jr., RIT's director of athletics, said Sgt. Wallace was a three-time All-American wrestler and still has the second-best wrestling record at RIT, with 108 wins and 27 losses. He was a two-time champion of the RIT Invitational in 1998 and 2001 and won several other tournaments. His achievements landed him in the RIT Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.

"He was a fierce competitor," Spiotti said. "He was one of the finest athletes we've ever had. We are all really saddened. He's like part of the family here. It's a big loss for the RIT community."

When his competing days were over, Sgt. Wallace volunteered as an assistant wrestling coach at RIT. His mother said he was getting ready to help coach the wrestling team in the Hoonah School.

"He was good-hearted. He was kind. All he wanted to do was help people there," she said.

Spiotti called Sgt. Wallace "a genuine person. He was a person who let you know who he was. He was warm, personable, he cared about people. I've got to believe his service work as a law enforcement officer and a public safety officer was out of his caring and desire to help and serve people."

Sgt. Wallace's communication and signing skills were valuable assets in RIT's Public Safety Department when deaf students needed assistance. He also taught classes at the Public Safety Training Facility of Monroe County, helping educate new officers about the proper ways to interact with deaf citizens.

Chris Denninger, director of RIT's Public Safety Department, said he had to avoid getting in Sgt. Wallace's way on the racquetball court "or risk being flattened due to his sheer size and ultra-competitiveness. But off the court, Tony was a caring person who was all heart. What I'll always remember about Tony is his full-tilt passion towards everything in life, such as his friends, family, sports and police work."

In an email last summer, he updated his friends:
"I finally accomplished my dream and finished the police academy here in Alaska," he said. "Even better news is that I graduated No. 1 in my graduating class of 21 recruits. It has been a long time coming, but I finally did it."

He was proud to be a police officer as well as a role model for deaf and hard-of-hearing students who may think they could never become a police officer.

 "Anything and everything is possible. It's just a matter of how bad you want it and how far you are willing to go to prove to people that you are worthy of whatever career you want to pursue," he said in an interview last year.

Ryan Hicks, a close friend and an RIT Public Safety Senior Officer, worked with Sgt. Wallace helping train area police recruits about working with individuals who are deaf.

"He was one of the most honest guys I knew," Hicks said. "He was always funny. He'd always bring the best out of people."

Hicks says Sgt. Wallace, who was built like the champion wrestler he was, had no qualms about encountering the wildlife around the RIT campus.

"For a big guy like him, he had been known to wrestle deer every once in awhile," Hicks said.

Although he lived thousands of miles from his family, Sgt. Wallace spoke regularly with his mother and his daughter, Lexis Wallace, 12. This summer, he traveled to Ohio to spend time with her.

"We went to a Reds game, and we went bowling and played monster mini golf - everything glowed in the dark," Lexis said. "He won by a couple of points."

"He was my best friend," Greene said. "We were real close. There wasn't anything he didn't share with me."

Other than his mother and daughter, Sgt. Wallace's survivors include his grandmother, Mary Kay Cole, of St. Petersburg; a stepmother, Cindy Wallace, of Ohio, and two nieces, Stephanie and Allison, of Florida.

NTID Interim President James DeCaro says a celebration of Sgt. Wallace's life will be held on the RIT campus in the next few weeks; details will be arranged to make sure Sgt. Wallace's family can attend.

"Tony was a very bright and highly respected student, and a wonderful human being," DeCaro said. "His RIT/NTID family sends its thoughts and prayers to his family, and to his police family, at this difficult time."

Donations may be made to: Alaska Pacific Bank, c/o Anthony Wallace Fund, 2094 Jordan Ave., Juneau, AK 99801.

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