FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - Two California Highway Patrol officers who died while responding to a crash earlier this month were remembered Monday as men dedicated to their families, friends and those they served.
CHP Commissioner Joseph Farrow called officers Brian Law and Juan Gonzalez heroes and asked a gathering of more than 2,500 - mostly officers - attending a memorial at the Save Mart Center in Fresno to consider those they left behind.
“These families pay a price so incredibly high, one that society can never repay,” he said. “This is the human spirit at its very finest.”
The ceremony began with a march by a four-member CHP color guard accompanied by bagpipes. The color guard stood before the officers’ flag-draped caskets. Farrow told the crowd it was a day of mourning for the entire state.
Law, 34, and Gonzalez, 33, died on Feb. 17 while they were in the same patrol car heading south on state Route 99 toward a pre-dawn crash in Kingsburg.
The patrol car driven by Gonzalez veered off the road, apparently trying to avoid a pedestrian involved in the original collision. Both officers died at the scene, and the accident remains under investigation.
Monday came the time to celebrate both men’s lives. Gonzalez, who grew up in a poor community of rural Central California, announced to his family at age 5 that he dreamed of one day joining the Highway Patrol. He went on to graduate from California State University, Fresno, and then made his boyhood dream come true, said longtime friend Hector Arredondo.
“Juan should be taken as an example of how we should live our lives, because he lived his dreams,” Arredondo said of Gonzalez, who is survived by his parents, siblings and fiance.
Gonzalez and Law worked the graveyard shift together and were close, both graduating from the CHP academy in 2008. They are the first officers from the Fresno CHP office who died together in the line of duty and the first Fresno CHP deaths since 1962, when Jerry E. Turre was struck and killed while laying flares at an accident scene.
Law, who is survived by his wife and three children, served in the Marines and Air Force before joining the CHP. His laughter and good spirits were infectious, said friend and CHP colleague, John Savage, who was inspired by Law to be a better husband and someday a great father.
“Brian, I want you to know that I’m by your side today,” Savage said. “Until we meet again, you will be in my heart and memories, and you will be truly missed.”
In addition to Gov. Jerry Brown and state Attorney General Kamala Harris, officers from at least 21 agencies, including some outside California, attend Monday’s memorial. Officer Axel Reyes of the CHP’s Fresno office said outside of the ceremony that some of the officers in attendance were on duty and others off. He said the Save Mart Center was rented for the event with donations from the community.
Following the memorial, the crowd of officers wearing their dress uniforms flooded outside and lined both sides of the street. Two hearses and a procession of Highway Patrol cars with their lights flashing passed by. The officers came to attention and saluted as their fallen colleagues were taken to be buried in separate funeral services.
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