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Turlock Police Association Widows and Orphans: Caring for the families of the fallen for 60 years

POSTED May 13, 2011 8:58 p.m.

Every year around this time law enforcement agencies from across the country gather at ceremonies for National Police Week and reflect on their colleagues who died in the line of duty. Here in Turlock there is an organization that pays homage to the sacrifices of the fallen on a regular basis by lending a helping hand to those in need in the department.

For 60 years the Turlock Police Association Widows and Orphans has been caring for the families of the fallen and those within the department dealing with a tragedy or loss.

“The Widows and Orphans Foundation devote themselves to serving the men and women who dedicate their lives to public safety and choose to serve in the community of Turlock," said Allison Martin, the foundation’s president.

Within Stanislaus County the Turlock Police Department has the sad distinction of having suffered both the first and greatest single loss of officers.

Officer Lavon B. New was a 29-year-old family man who had been serving with the Turlock Police Department for four months and was assigned to the motorcycle unit. On June 23, 1935, New was pursuing a vehicle that failed to stop at an intersection. As he traveled down what was then called the Golden State Highway, a vehicle turned in front of him and he struck the rear axle of the car.

New was rushed to Emanuel Hospital and later transferred to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Stockton.

Though his injuries were serious, New hung on for almost two months before succumbing to his injuries during a surgery on Aug. 14, 1935.

Fourteen years later the Turlock Police Department would be rocked by the loss of three veteran officers in one collision.

The clock was nearing midnight on Nov. 1, 1949. Turlock Police Officers Joe Kerley and Glenn Winans were just about done with their shift and Officer George Bredenberg was readying to start his, when a report of a prowler came in.

The three officers piled into a patrol car and headed out. The fog was thick that night and hung like a curtain over the railroad tracks, obscuring the oncoming freight train.

Retired Stanislaus County Judge Donald Shaver was the keynote speaker at the annual Peace Officers Memorial held at Lakewood Memorial Park on May 4, and remembered some of the details from that tragic night.

The patrol car “hit with enough force to derail the train and break the train’s wheels on the opposite side of the train,” Shaver said.

Kerley and Winans, who were sitting in the front seats, were killed instantly. Bredenberg died 51 hours after the accident on Nov. 4, 1949.

The tragedy shocked the tight-knit department, and officers wanted to do something to remember their lost brethren. Out of their grief was born the Widows and Orphans Benefit Fund. Through the decades the organization hosted dinners, dances, and other functions to raise funds for the families left behind. In 1965, the organization incorporated to become the non-profit Turlock Police Association Widows and Orphans. Over the years the organization has expanded their mission to include all members of the department, not just police officers.

"Since 1951, The Turlock Police Association, Widows and Orphans Foundation, has been actively serving the families of fallen police officers from the Turlock Police Department. Thanks to the many fundraisers that are done every year, the Widows and Orphans are able to provide much needed financial assistance to Police Department employees and their families,” Martin said. “Funeral costs, final expenses and daily bills can be a burden to any family that has just suffered a loss. Widows and Orphans ensures that Police Department families do not need to experience financial difficulty in those hard times. Children of fallen officers receive college scholarships, should they choose to pursue higher education. Last year, Widows and Orphans gave a college scholarship to the daughter of Officer Darrell Harden, who succumbed to a fatal disease in 2000 while still an officer with the Turlock Police Department.”

Unfortunately, the deaths in 1949 were not the last that the Turlock Police department would have to suffer.

Officer Raymond Willert was 26 years old and a five year veteran of the department when he was called upon on Feb. 9, 1973, to respond to a bank robbery.

“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,” recalled Shaver. “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 gunshot 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,” Shaver said.

 

Ceres Courier Editor Jeff Benziger contributed to this report.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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