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Originally published December 22, 2009 at 11:00 PM | Page modified December 23, 2009 at 9:30 PM

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Deputy Kent Mundell Jr.: Changed careers 'to get the bad guy'

Kent Mundell Jr., one of two Pierce County sheriff's deputies wounded Monday, quit a comfortable manufacturing career because "he wanted to get the bad guy," a relative says.

Seattle Times staff reporters

Kent Mundell Jr. gave up a comfortable manufacturing career when he was in his mid-30s to become a Pierce County sheriff's deputy, his stepbrother said.

"He wanted to get the bad guy," said Mark Stafford, 38, who refers to Mundell as "my brother."

Stafford, who works for Tacoma Public Works, said he learned Tuesday morning that Mundell, 44, was fighting for his life at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle after being shot during a domestic-violence call Monday night. He was listed in critical condition.

"Emptiness, sick to my stomach," Stafford recalled of his reaction.

Stafford said he was about 10 years old when he got to know Mundell, who is about six years older, while growing up in the South Hill area of Puyallup.

They were friends then, years before Stafford's father, Patrick, and Mundell's mother, Patricia, married in the mid-1980s.

After the marriage, Stafford said, he and Mundell became close when they were young adults.

For the past 10 years, they have traveled every August to lakes in Eastern Washington or Idaho with other family members for camping trips, where they went boating and wakeboarding.

Mundell lives for those adventures, Stafford said.

"His motto was: 'If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space.' That's how he lived his life," Stafford said.

Mundell, who married his wife, Lisa, a high-school sweetheart, more than 20 years ago, also dotes on his daughter, 16, and son, 10, Stafford said.

"Those kids are his life," Stafford said.

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Mundell also became a licensed pilot. He bought a plane after renting one, and he also has parachuted, Stafford said.

After high school, Mundell moved to Las Vegas, where he worked for a time before returning to the Puyallup area, Stafford said.

Mundell developed a special skill with a machine used to set windows — a process called extrusion — and worked in the 1990s for Milgard Windows & Doors in Fife, Stafford said.

As a mid-level manager, he earned a good salary, Stafford said.

Mundell then moved to another company for a short time before he joined the Sheriff's Department, Stafford said.

"He wasn't a guy who was going to sit at a desk," Stafford said. "He was wired as a thrill-seeker."

Mundell never spoke of the dangers of police work, even after the recent killings of four police officers in nearby Lakewood, Stafford said.

Pierce County Deputy Tony Messineo, who worked with Mundell on the department's meth-lab team from 2002 to 2007, called Mundell a "great cop."

"He's funny, joking around; a great guy," said Messineo, who had just left Harborview.

Pat Stafford, Mundell's mother, said Tuesday that more than a decade ago her son announced he wanted to become a sheriff's deputy.

"He surprised us very much with that decision," she said.

Still, it made sense, knowing him. "He always liked the things that maybe made other people afraid," she said.

"He was always the kid who would take up the new sport and just excel at it, whether it was dirt-bike riding or skiing, kite boarding, jet skiing. He was always just lunging ahead with a sense of adventure and daring."

Mundell's stepmother, Dorene Mundell, of Belton, Texas, said Tuesday she and her husband got a phone call at midnight, informing them of the shooting.

She thought it was a dream.

"I said, 'I think you have the wrong number,' " Mundell recalled Tuesday morning.

"We're all just numb," she said. "And in shock. I'm sure strong emotions will follow."

She and his father, Kent Mundell Sr., were making preparations to fly to Seattle from their home, near Fort Hood.

His mother and other relatives are at Harborview Medical Center, she said.

Working for a company that supplied the military, Kent Mundell Sr. traveled with his family all over the globe, moving them to Hawaii and Korea and finally to Puyallup, she said.

Kent Jr. graduated from Rogers High School, Dorene Mundell said, recalling his love of scuba diving, snow skiing and parasailing.

"Anything with action," she said.

"He's one of the best fathers I have ever seen in my life," she noted. "That has nothing to do with his being hurt today. I would have told you that a week ago or a month ago."

He also is close with his larger family. Dorene said when she and Kent Mundell Sr. married six years ago, they brought together their families, with their own grown children and grandchildren.

"He seemed so happy for all of us to be welcomed into his side of the family," Dorene said of Kent Jr.: "My daughters loved him. My only grandson calls him Uncle Kent, and I'm about to cry talking about it."

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com

Maureen O'Hagan: 206-464-2562 or mohagan@seattletimes.com

Seattle Times news researchers Gene Balk and David Turim contributed to this report

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