One year ago, 15 names of Stanislaus County peace officers who died while on duty were etched in the granite memorial at Lakewood Memorial Park. When the annual Peace Officers Memorial ceremony was held on Wednesday, there was a 16th name – that of slain Stanislaus County Sheriff Deputy Dennis Wallace added to the ranks.
Wallace’s widow, Mercedes Wallace, and family members could see her husband’s fresh headstone just feet from the memorial. Below a color portrait of her late husband’s headstone picture is etched words he repeated often: “Kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”
Deputy Wallace, 53, was shot during a Nov. 13, 2016 traffic stop at Fox Grove, miles upstream from his final resting spot. The 20-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department lived in Hughson and was assigned as a D.A.R.E. officer at Dena Boer Elementary School campus in Salida, where he was a friend to students. David Machado was arrested later that day but ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial.
The annual event is a way for the Stanislaus County Peace Officers Association to pay homage to fellow officers who have died on the job. Eleven officers in California were killed in the line of duty in 2016. In Stanislaus County 16 law enforcement members have been killed since records have been kept.
Chaplain Albert Veldstra offered a prayer of thanks to God for “creating a special type of person to … have a natural instinct to run towards the danger without regards to their own safety.”
Retired CHP officer and SCPOA president Matt Gisler spoke about Wallace, calling him a good man “and dedicated community servant and to many of us gathered here, a friend.”
“We will always remember the loss and sacrifice,” said Gisler of all fallen officers. “It’s truly an honor to pay tribute to their memory.”
Modesto Police Detective Dave Wallace, Dennis' younger brother, spoke to the crowd of mostly law enforcement personnel.
“I am a new member of a group that no one would ever wish to be a part of,” said Wallace. “I am a survivor, more specifically a sibling survivor. I represent this honored group that is seated here before us.”
In 1985 Wallace attended his first law enforcement funeral – that of his father, CHP officer Dennis Taylor Wallace who was a 27-year career veteran when he died in an off-duty car crash.
“The tribute his fellow officers paid to him and our family are part of what fortified my brother’s and my decision to follow in our father’s footsteps, to join this great profession, law enforcement.”
Dave Wallace was hired as a Stanislaus County deputy marshal in 1991 before being absorbed into the Sheriff’s Department a year later. In 1996 he was hired by Modesto Police Department. As a member of the MPD Honor Guard, Wallace has attended the annual observance for over 15 years. He said he knew or worked with five of the men whose names are etched on the memorial behind him – Ceres Police Sgt. Howard Stevenson, CHP Officer Earl Scott, Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert “Bob” Lee Paris, Jr., Modesto Police Officer Steve May and his own brother Dennis. He also knew two others in law enforcement who died in accidents – Sheriff’s ID tech Mary Ann Donahou and former Deputy and Ripon Police Officer Robert Winget.
“Please take solace in knowing that each one of them lived and served honorably. The communities they served were blessed to have them. The law enforcement family is honored to have served with them and they are dearly missed.”
Members of the families of local fallen officers who attended the ceremony included Stevenson's widow, Kathy Stevenson, and his two children, Bryce and Mikayla. Also present was Kathleen Willey, widow of Turlock Police Officer Raymond Willert who died in a 1973 bank robbery. They took turns placing flowers at the wreath placed at the base of the granite memorial etched with their loved one's name.
CHP Captain Julian Irigoyen read the names of California officers who died on duty last year and the date of their “end of watch.” California officers killed last year were: Deputy Wallace, Fresno County Sheriff’s Sgt. Rod Lucas, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Alfonso Lopez, Modoc County Sheriff’s Deputy Jack Hopkins, Palm Springs Police Officers Jose Gilbert “Gil” Vega and Lesley Marie Zerebny, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Steven C. Owen, San Diego Police Officer Jonathan Matias DeGuzman, San Jose Police Officer Michael Katherman, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officer Brian Beliso, California Highway Patrolman Nathan Taylor, and Tulare County Deputy Sheriff Scott Ballantyne.
The ceremony featured a Sheriff's Department helicopter fly-over, a 21-gun salute performed by the Modesto Police Honor Guard, taps and the playing of the hymn, "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes. 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 (www.odmp.org) a total of 43 officers have died in the United States so far this year. A total of 22,867 known law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty since 1791.