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Fallen peace officers honored at annual Lakewood ceremony
A large contingency of law enforcement officers from throughout Stanislaus County paused Wednesday to remember all the many officers who have been killed in the line of duty in 2010 as well as countywide since 1935.

Retired Stanislaus County judge Don Shaver was the keynote speaker at the annual Peace Officers Memorial held at Lakewood Memorial Park near Hughson. He started out his remarks to applaud the recent military assassination of international war criminal Osama Bin Laden.

"This is very much a day of cheers and tears," said Shaver, who also remembered the deaths of fallen heroes in the war against terror.

The ceremony paid homage to the 11 peace officers who died in the line of duty in California during 2010. The May 4 ceremony also remembered the 14 officers who died as a result of on-duty mishaps in Stanislaus County since 1935. Turlock Police Department suffered both the first and greatest single loss of officers - five in total, three of which were from a Nov. 1, 1949 crash.

Shaver shared riveting details about the circumstances surrounding some of the officers' deaths.

Turlock Police officers Joe Kerley and Glenn Winans were scheduled to go off duty at midnight on Nov. 1, 1949 but decided to respond to "one more prowler call before clocking out." They joined with Officer George Bredenberg, who just came onto his shift. The three piled into a patrol car and traveled into thick tule fog which shrouded a railroad crossing where they entered the path of a passing train. Shaver said they "hit with enough force to derail the train and break the train's wheels on the opposite side of the train. Two of them died instantly and the third died two days later in the hospital."

For 16 years there were no officer deaths in the county. However, said Shaver, between the years 1965 and 1973, six officers died, among them being Sheriff's deputy Billy Joe Dickens who was killed responding to a Jan. 27, 1970 Hughson bank robbery.

"One was ambushed on a domestic violence call, one was shot in the back after taking on two 211 suspects at the same time.

"Another, Officer Raymond Willert, who was 26 years old at the time and a five-year veteran of Turlock P.D., was responding to a 211 call at a bank in Turlock. The first officers on the scene detained a person matching the description behind the bank. So when Officer Willert arrived, he was approaching from right in front of the bank, using the bank as cover. Unfortunately, what the officers did not know was that the real suspects were inside the bank and at that point were preparing to execute the bank employees to eliminate any witnesses."

Shaver said that Willert walked by the front plate glass window of the bank and was shot in the head at nearly point-blank range. The sound of the fatal gun shot alerted the officers in the back and they were able to kill one of the robbers while capturing the other two.

"All of the bank hostages who had been seconds away from being killed, survived because of the actions of Officer Willert."

The results of the Feb. 9, 1973 murder left a wife and a three-year-old son. His widow was present at the memorial.

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 the George's Liquors.

"We were shocked out of our complacency." commented Shaver.

A year later the county was rocked by the death of CHP officer Earl Scott, a Hughson resident who was gunned down during a Highway 99 traffic stop south of Hammett Road between Ripon and Salida.

"These tragic and cruel losses impacted the community like nothing else had in recent memory," said Shaver. "Both left behind grief stricken family and stunned friends and co-workers."

The last Stanislaus County officer casualty was Steve May, who died on July 23, 2009 after falling into a seven-year coma from injuries sustained when a felon crashed into his car during a July 29, 2002 crash. May started his career working with the Ceres Police Department and transferred to Modesto Police in February 1979.

More than 1,400 California peace officers have died in duty since statehood.

Shaver praised all officers for protecting the public at great personal sacrifice.

"As we're getting into our warm beds in the evening and settling back for peaceful slumber, they are putting on their service belts and their uniforms and heading out into the night to confront those who would do us harm... they are soldiers in the war on crime."

He noted, too, that officers sometimes "protect lawbreakers from themselves."

"It's a fact that peace officers have directed more unfortunates into drug courts, to mental health courts, to homeless courts and other treatment courts than any other group, thereby getting them out of the criminal justice system, out of the revolving door and allowing them to live meaningful lives."

President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation in 1962 setting aside the first Wednesday in May as Peace Officers Memorial Day.

Members of the local fallen officers attended the ceremony, including widow Kathy Stevenson, daughter Mikaela, and Howard's sister, Carmen Stevenson. They took turns at the end of the ceremony placing flowers at the wreath placed at the base of the granite memorial etched with their loved ones' name. A 21-gun salute was performed by the CHP Honor Guard, taps by Wayne Hill and a playing of the hymn, "Amazing Grace," by Randy Francis of Turlock. 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 ( a total of 20,561 law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty since the nation was founded. Sixty-five have died this year alone.