One year ago, 15 names of Stanislaus County peace officers who died while on duty were etched in the granite memorial at Lakewood Memorial Park. When the annual Peace Officers Memorial ceremony was held on Wednesday, May 3 there was a 16th name - that of slain Stanislaus County Sheriff Deputy Dennis Wallace.
Wallace's widow, Mercedes Wallace, and family members could see her husband's fresh headstone just feet from the memorial. Below a color portrait of her late husband's headstone picture is etched words he repeated often: "Kids don't care what you know until they know that you care."
Deputy Wallace, 53, was murdered during a Nov. 13, 2016 traffic stop at Fox Grove, miles upstream from his final resting spot. The 20-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department lived in Hughson and was assigned as a DARE officer at Dena Boer Elementary School campus in Salida where he was a friend to students. David Machado was arrested later that day but ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial.
The annual event is a way for the Stanislaus County Peace Officers Association (SCPOA) to pay homage to fellow officers who have died on the job. Eleven officers in California were killed in the line of duty in 2016 with 16 officers in Stanislaus County killed since records have been kept.
Chaplain Albert Veldstra offered a prayer of thanks to God for "creating a special type of person to ... have a natural instinct to run towards the danger without regards to their own safety."
Retired CHP officer and SCPOA president Matt Gisler spoke about Wallace, calling him a good man "and dedicated community servant and to many of us gathered here a friend."
"We will always remember the loss and sacrifice," said Gisler of all fallen officers. "It's truly an honor to pay tribute to their memory."
Modesto Police Detective Dave Wallace, Dennis' younger brother, spoke to the crowd of mostly law enforcement personnel.
"I am a new member of a group that no one would ever wish to be a part of," said Wallace. "I am a survivor, more specifically a sibling survivor. I represent this honored group that is seated here before us."
Wallace said he also represents "one of the greatest professions known to man - I am a law enforcement officer."
In 1985 Wallace attended his first law enforcement funeral - that of his father, CHP officer Dennis Taylor Wallace who was a 27-year career veteran when he died in an off-duty car crash.
"The tribute his fellow officers paid to him and our family are part of what fortified my brother's and my decision to follow in our father's footsteps, to join this great profession, law enforcement."
Dave Wallace was hired as a Stanislaus County deputy marshal in 1991 before being absorbed into the Sheriff's Department a year later. In 1996 he was hired by Modesto Police Department. As a member of the MPD Honor Guard, Wallace has attended the annual observance for over 15 years. He said he knew or worked with five of the men whose names are etched on the memorial behind him - Ceres Police Sgt. Howard Stevenson, CHP Officer Earl Scott, Stanislaus County Sheriff's Deputy Robert "Bob" Lee Paris, Jr., Modesto Police Officer Steve May and his own brother Dennis. He also knew two others in law enforcement who died in accidents - Sheriff's ID tech Mary Ann Donahou and former Deputy and Ripon Police Officer Robert Winget.
"Please take solace in knowing that each one of them lived and served honorably. The communities they served were blessed to have them. The law enforcement family is honored to have served with them and they are dearly missed."
Members of the families of local fallen officers who attended the ceremony included Stevenson's widow, Kathy Stevenson, and his two children, Bryce and Mikayla. Also present was Kathleen Willey, widow of Turlock Police Officer Raymond Willert who died in a 1973 bank robbery. They took turns placing flowers at the wreath placed at the base of the granite memorial etched with their loved one's name.
CHP Captain Julian Irigoyen read the names of California officers who died on duty last year and the date of their "end of watch." California officers killed last year were Deputy Wallace, Fresno County Sheriff's Sgt. Rod Lucas, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Alfonso Lopez, Modoc County Sheriff's Deputy Jack Hopkins, Palm Springs Police Officers Jose Gilbert "Gil" Vega and Lesley Marie Zerebny, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Steven C. Owen, San Diego Police Officer Jonathan Matias DeGuzman, San Jose Police Officer Michael Katherman, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officer Brian Beliso, California Highway Patrolman Nathan Taylor, and Tulare County Deputy Sheriff Scott Ballantyne.
The first recorded officer in Stanislaus County to die on the job was Lavon B. New who crashed his Turlock Police motorcycle and died four months later on Aug. 14, 1935.
Earle Myron Ames, a California Highway Patrolman, died Dec. 11, 1936 when his police motorcycle struck a city bus at the eastern approach to the Oakland Bay Bridge during heavy fog. He was on a special duty assignment in Oakland at the time. Officer Ames had served with the California Highway Patrol for two years and had previously served as the Newman police chief for four years.
Turlock Police officers Joe Kerley and Glenn Winans were scheduled to go off duty at midnight on Nov. 1, 1949 but responded to a prowler call before clocking out. They joined with Officer George Bredenberg, who just came onto his shift. The three jumped into a patrol car and traveled into thick fog which shrouded a railroad crossing where they entered the path of a passing train. Kerley and Winans were killed instantly while Bredenberg died two days later.
For 16 years there were no officer deaths in the county. However, between 1965 and 1973, six officers died, including Sheriff's Deputy Billy Joe Dickens who was killed responding to a Jan. 27, 1970 Hughson Avenue bank robbery. Dickens was shot in the back after taking on two robbery suspects at the same time.
Sheriff's Deputy Harold Thornton died as he responded to a south Modesto domestic violence call on Aug. 23, 1967 and was ambushed by the suspect.
Officer Raymond Willert, 26, a five-year Turlock police veteran, died on Feb. 9, 1973 as he responded to a Turlock bank robbery.
For the next 32 years, officer safety was taken for granted in Stanislaus County. But on Jan. 9, 2005, Ceres Police sustained its first officer death when Sgt. Howard Stevenson was ambushed and slain outside of George's Liquors.
A year later, on Feb. 17, 2006, the region was rocked by the death of CHP officer Earl H. Scott, 36, of Hughson. He was gunned down by Columbus Allen Jr. during a Highway 99 traffic stop just south of Hammett Road near Salida.
Modesto Police officer Steve May died on July 23, 2009 as the victim of a seven-year coma from injuries sustained when a felon crashed into his car during a July 29, 2002 crash at South Santa Cruz and Mono Drive. May started his police career working with Ceres Police before transferring to Modesto Police in 1979.
Stanislaus County Sheriff's Deputy Robert "Bob" Lee Paris, Jr., was killed April 12, 2012 while he and another deputy were serving an eviction notice at the Whispering Woods apartment complex on Chrysler Drive in Modesto.
More than 1,620 California peace officers have died in duty since statehood. Nationwide, 144 officers died on duty last year
President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation in 1962 setting aside the first Wednesday in May as Peace Officers Memorial Day.
The ceremony featured a Sheriff's Department helicopter fly-over, a 21-gun salute performed by the Modesto Police Honor Guard, taps and the playing of the hymn, "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes. Patrol cars from all police agencies rolled a vehicle by the memorial. A riderless horse was led along by a Stanislaus County Sheriff's deputy.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page website (www.odmp.org) a total of 43 officers have died in the United States so far this year. A total of 22,867 known law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty since 1791.