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Runners pay homage to fallen officers
Fifty-six graduates of the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department Regional Training Academy busted a sweat during Thursday's first annual Academy Pride Memorial Run in Ceres. The cadets ran in honor of all law enforcement officers who have either been killed or injured in the line of duty.

The run took place the day after the Stanislaus County Peace Officers Memorial Service and included a tribute to slain Ceres Police Sgt. Howard Stevenson at the riverside memorial in his honor.

Stevenson was killed in a Jan. 9, 2005 police shoot-out with a suspect in front of George's Liquors on Caswell Avenue. Also shot was Officer Sam Ryno, who made a recovery from critical gunshot wounds. The gunman responsible for the shooting, 19-year-old Andres Raya, was shot and killed by police a short while later.

The army-like contingent of cadets started out at 6:30 a.m. from the Ceres Police Station and snaked its way down Whitmore Avenue, up Mitchell Road and then to the Ceres River Bluff Regional Park on Hatch Road. Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden and motorcycle units from Ceres and Turlock police and the Sheriff's Department led the way on the 3.3-mile run to the park. Along the way bystanders paused to applaud and take pictures of the T-shirt clad cadets.

The sweat-drenched cadets lined up quietly in rows at the Howard Stevenson Memorial Grove where members of Stevenson's family were presented a shadowbox containing a memorial American flag. Amid peaceful birds calls, Sheriff Adam Christiansen praised the new class of cadets for their commitment.

"As I followed the run this morning and watched people lining the roads to watch you," said Sheriff Christiansen, "that is something that you will never forget. Don't ever, in the course of your law enforcement career, forget that we are here to serve. What you've done today to honor those who have given their lives, and especially Sergeant Howard Stevenson, is something that I am very proud of all of you for doing."

Officials also presented a plaque to Zach Ryno, the son of Sam Ryno. Zach is a member of the cadet class. Sam Ryno and wife Lynda were unable to attend the event.

As the cadets resumed their run back through Ceres, Stevenson's parents and widow paused to remember their loss.

"This is beautiful, wonderful," said Phyllis Stevenson, mother of the slain sergeant. Overcome with emotion, she was unable to finish her words. Howard's father, Mike Stevenson of Lakeport, offered his own words.

"It's sad but we're so grateful for the way the community has shown their appreciation for Howard's service and the way they've honored the family," said Mike.

The memorial grove was a part of the community's way of honoring Stevenson. Individuals, groups and businesses donated over $40,000 to build the memorial and fund its upkeep.

"I think we were treated so well. They really have done so much. It's never going to change the sadness for us. That will never go away, but there's a comfort we feel when we come down here. Look at the serenity. We come down here and sit here. It's a wonderful tribute, a kind of thing our son would have wanted. He was an outdoor guy."

Mr. Stevenson presented the runners with a gift: A memorial badge pin attached to a color photo of the granite memorial they were visiting.

Also on hand was Carmen Stevenson, Howard's sister, and his daughter, Mikaela Stevenson.

"It's just overwhelming," said Kathy Stevenson, widow of the sergeant. "It's just really important for the families to always know that people are still remembering."

Kathy Stevenson reported that she and her children are "doing better" in their grief. Whenever they visit the memorial grove, she said, they get a sense of peacefulness in the river setting.

Sheriff Christiansen, as well as Turlock Police Chief Gary Hampton and Ceres Police Chief Art deWerk, were among those who rode behind the runners in vehicles. At the river setting Christiansen joked that Wasden was a "better man" for running with the cadets.