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Fallen peace officers honored
The average law enforcement officer lives about 20 fewer years than the average American, former Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden told Wednesday's annual Peace Officers' Memorial gathering at Lakewood Memorial Park near Hughson. But most are willing to take that risk because they enjoy "doing what they love - serving others."

"I am so grateful for those who serve," commented Wasden, the keynote speaker. "As we look at the names that are behind me, it is with the recognition that this country could not exist if we did not have those who ...who put themselves in harm's way for the welfare of others."

The May 5 ceremony paid homage to 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 - but thoughts were with the Modesto Police which suffered the latest death.

Steve May, who was injured when a felon crashed into his car during a July 29, 2002 crash, died July 23, 2009 after remaining in a coma for seven years. May's death was among six officers' deaths statewide in 2009; four of which occurred during an March 21, 2009 Oakland shootout. Wasden praised the valor of May, who started his career working with the Ceres Police Department and transferred to Modesto Police in February 1979.

Wasden said he remembered chatting with May at his desk the Friday before the Monday crash.

"He was an exceptional man," said Wasden. "On that Friday night, in that little bit of time, I saw what made Steve the great man that he is; and that is his dedication to others and love of his family, his willingness to love others and to help them, his kindness backed by the moral courage to do what is right."

Wasden said the average life expectancy of a police officer rose from 57 years to 58 years while the average life expectancy is under 78 years.

"This is the price that our police officers pay for being willing to serve," said Wasden. "Sgt. May and the others we honor and remember here today did not make the average. Their lives were cut short doing what they love - serving others."

Wasden quoted from a Bible passage found in John 5, which states that "greater love hath no man than this: than man lay down his life for his friends."

John Plett, president of the Stanislaus County Peace Officers Association (SCPOA), said the numbers of officer deaths last year was unusually low, contrasting that with 18 names he had to read at one ceremony - but noted that "no single loss is insignificant."

"Let's find solace in the recognition that each one of these officers, each one of these men and women were performing a public service in an occupation that they thoroughly loved," added Plett.

Modesto Police Chief Mike Harden remarked that officers must endure working conditions that few men and women are willing to tolerate.

"(Daily they) kiss their loved ones and children behind," said Harden. "They're now tapped with keeping the peace and bringing order to the streets. Those whom they come into contact with have no rules. Police officers, every day, risk death by painting themselves as targets every time they put the uniform on. They take the abuse and shake it off, knowing they'll return again tomorrow for more. Except some do not return and that was Steve's case."

Members of the local fallen officers attended the ceremony, including widow Kathy Stevenson, children Bryce, Megan and Mikaela, his mother, Phyllis Stevenson 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. Each agency dispatched a vehicle to roll by the memorial, one being a riderless horse by the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department.

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page website ( a total of 20,143 law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty since the nation was founded.