ELKHORN--Robert Hall and the rest of the SWAT team were waiting outside a Delavan apartment where Roger St. Clair was holding his girlfriend hostage.
Once Hall, the breacher for the rescue mission, broke open the door, bullets flew in the team's direction. Hall said he and another SWAT member were briefly caught in the “oh wow I don't believe this is happening moment.”
It was then that Hall felt the hand of entry-team leader Jeff Patek on his back. Protocol for a hostage rescue says SWAT should keep moving forward into the danger zone to save the hostage, Hall said.
“Jeff very calmly knew that we couldn't stay in place,” said Hall, current captain of the Walworth County Sheriff's Office. “We end up being able to save that woman's life. She is living today because of not only my and (the other SWAT team member's) actions, but she is alive because of Jeff's actions. If he wasn't there, maybe we would have gone back down the stairs.”
As someone who dedicated his life to public service, Patek died before many of the people he helped save. He died June 23 at the age of 49 after battling cancer. He was married with three daughters.
Patek, born in Elkhorn, was a sergeant and served with the Walworth County Sheriff's Office for 23 years. He is mostly known for his work with the drug unit, but he also volunteered with the Walworth Fire Department for 12 years.
Hall worked with Patek for the last 20 years and one month. They spent 15 years together on the SWAT team.
“There was a whole lot more information I wish I could have learned because the man was a wealth of knowledge,” Hall said. “Not only is Walworth County losing a great asset when it comes to drug enforcement, but the state of Wisconsin is as well.”
Colleagues and family unanimously praised Patek's commitment to his job, family and community.
His wife, Amy, deeply appreciated his sacrifices.
“It means the world,” she said. “It's truly unbelievable. He was wonderful.”
Because of the nature of his work, the Patek family had to make sacrifices, too. They understood he was always on call.
“He was married to his phone,” Amy said. “We received phone calls in the middle of the night. There were many times he would have to get up and go. That was a part of his job. That's what he did. He did it when he had to.”
Josh Grube, who worked with Patek as a deputy district attorney for Walworth County from 2003 to 2014, was sometimes on the receiving end of 2 a.m. calls from Patek. Grube praised Patek's professionalism but also saw his commitment to family.
“He was supremely dedicated to his job but more so dedicated to his family,” Grube said. “His family just meant the world to him, and that was clear in everything that he did.”
Patek's selfless nature was instinctual.
About four years ago during a fire training exercise, an accidental explosion shocked participants, catching one firefighter in the middle of it.
By the time Village of Walworth Police Chief Chris Severt was calling for EMS to rescue the firefighter, Patek had jumped toward the danger and pulled the firefighter out.
“(Jeff) wasn't the closest one to him when it happened, but that's just Jeff,” Severt said. “He's going toward things. He's not going the other direction.”
Patek's heroic tendencies were never combined with any flash. He always did his job then put his head down and moved on to the next one, people who knew him said.
Because of the sensitive nature of working with the drug unit, Patek was wary of photographs.
Patek helped establish protocols for a Drug Endangered Children program in Walworth County, said Walworth County Sheriff Kurt Picknell, who knew Patek for more than 25 years. Patek led the research, which raised awareness of how drugs in the household impact children.
The Walworth County Child Advocacy Center wanted to recognize Patek and drug unit deputies for their work. After a presentation, a representative wanted to photograph the police group to publicly recognize them for their work.
Patek knew that could endanger officers, so he declined the group photo.
“I find it a great opportunity to talk about it now and give Sgt. Patek the recognition he is due,” Picknell said. “This is the perfect time to illuminate all of the things that he's done.”
All Patek ever focused on was moving forward—to better the lives of his community. He always knew the job he had to do, people said.
As someone who was not emotionally expressive and who put so much of himself into his work, Patek was able to reflect during his time battling cancer, his wife said.
“Jeff was not an emotional person, but what got him the last few months was the generosity of people,” Amy said. “He said that you don't realize how much people really do care about you when you work with them every single day and how much they really do care. That's what really got him.”