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Ceres rallied around victims, families
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The pedestrian collision of Feb. 9, 2011, in which a pickup truck ran into five young girls, killing one, seriously injuring two, and inflicting lesser but still significant injuries to the other three, rocked the Ceres community. To call this tragic event an "incident," hardly describes the magnitude of the loss and pain experienced by the parents, family members, friends, classmates, and the community as a whole. This tragedy was so significant that it made national headlines, with ongoing updates until the person responsible for the collision was arrested.

Almost anytime there is a tragedy, the best of a community is brought out. With our tragedy, we saw an outpouring of compassion and respect for the victims and their families. There were candlelight vigils, various memorial events, and many informal gatherings among friends in remembrance of Danielle. There were multiple fundraising events to, in particular, provide financial assistance Danielle's family. Danielle could not be brought back her family, but members of the community saw to it that their financial hardships were significantly eased. The manner in which the Ceres community responded is one of the reasons Ceres is such a special and good place to live. The people of this community showed it for what it is - a caring community that values the lives of the people.

Some people chose to criticize the police for their handling of the case - specifically, that the police did not immediately arrest the errant pickup truck driver. It was a fair question to ask, but I am disappointed with the suggestions by a few people that the driver was not arrested immediately because he is Caucasian, and that if he were "Mexican," there would have been no delay in putting him behind bars. Most people, however, seemed to understand that this case was rather complex with the many witnesses involved, statements that needed to be taken and investigated by police, and the medical "variables" that the driver was asserting in connection with his condition.

The District Attorney's office also required the toxicology report (revealing any medications or illegal substances in the driver's blood) in order to finally determine what charges would be filed against the driver. And as we now all know, the driver was arrested last Friday for felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. The time that passed from the day of the collision to the date of arrest was necessary to conduct a thorough and complete investigation, and to receive the toxicology results from the lab. There was nothing typical about this tragedy, including the fact that that there were dozens of actual and potential witnesses near the scene, five girls were struck by the same vehicle and that there was so much media attention - all of which placed a significant burden on this agency's personnel resources.

The fundraising efforts for Danielle's family were a complete success, but this too raised some questions that warrant clarification. In this instance, members of the Ceres Police Department and certain council members (in their individual capacities) took immediate steps to identify resources to raise funds for Danielle's family to help cover the costs of the funeral and related costs. And while members of this agency used the news media to help publicize these financial needs, it was the community itself that raised the vast majority of the funds for Danielle's family. Some people thought that part of the official duties of the police are to help with such financial matters. To clarify, we have a limited amount of personnel and our primary role is to investigate crimes and traffic collisions, enforce laws and to engage in crime prevention activities. Police employees do their part in raising funds for victims in their individual capacities the same as any other community member. In extraordinary cases, such as the one of February 9, we will always try to help, but it is the community that is in the best position to help when the need is there. I am confident that the members of this community, and even people who live in neighboring cities, will help when tragedies occur - I have seen this many times in the nearly 12 years that I have worked here.

The loss of Danielle's life, the injuries to the other four girls, the psychological pain that has resulted for the surviving victims and the many others who have been affected by this tragic event is now a part of this community's psyche and it will stay with us forever. But it has also shown that we are made up of people who are not indifferent to the tragedy of others. The compassion, love and care shown makes it clear that we live in a special place, made up of people who look out for each other and upon whom we can depend in times of need. I am proud to be a part of the Ceres community.