For more than three miles, they ran with his memory in mind.
The Westminster Police family has never forgotten Officer Steve Phillips, who was killed in an on-duty traffic collision in 2004, but on Jan. 13, Phillips received special recognition.
Class 218 from the Orange County Sheriff’s Training Academy paid tribute to Phillips with their ceremonial honor run — a 5K trek to recognize officers who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Phillips is one of 53 officers killed in the line of duty in Orange County since 1912. This was the first time a class chose the Westminster motor officer as their honoree.
They presented Phillips’ wife, Sandy, with flowers and held a barbecue afterward to celebrate his life.
“Class 218 did a first-class job in dedicating this run to Steve,” said Westminster Cmdr. Cameron Knauerhaze. “Several employees, many of whom did not know Steve, also showed up and ran with the recruits.
“This shows the character of our employees, which was also Steve’s character — a dedicated and compassionate team player.”
Jan. 29 will mark the 12th anniversary of Phillips’ death — a dark day commemorated both in the memorial at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Training Academy and at Westminster PD’s own fallen officers memorial.
Phillips, a United States Air Force veteran, was hired by Westminster in 1986 after graduating from the Rio Hondo Police Academy.
He became a motor officer in 1991, and eventually became a training officer to help new motors learn the ropes.
Friends said Phillips was a committed mentor with an outlook on life that perpetually was positive.
“Steve was a jokester and always found humor in just about everything,” said Sgt. Mark Lauderback, who was trained by Phillips, then later became his partner. “He made the job fun.”
Phillips was also a man with a deep dedication to the love of his life.
“One of the neatest things about Steve was how much he loved his wife,” Lauderback said. “He was a man’s man, who was larger than life and not afraid of anything, but Sandy was his soft spot.”
When Phillips was killed in an on-duty traffic collision after a driver pulled out in front of his motorcycle, his death shook the Westminster PD family.
“I was working the day we lost Steve and unfortunately did the notification to his father,” Knauerhaze said. “I will never forget that day as those moments are tattooed in my mind forever.”
Lauderback said he remembers how things shifted within the department.
People who had never hugged each other before, hugged. And people who had never shared emotions before, talked.
“It was extremely hard to handle,” he said. “You have working relationships with people, but when that happened, all those professional barriers came down.
“It was like a family that was grieving.”
That same family, with some newer members, followed behind class 218 as they ran through the training academy.
“Special events like this help us heal,” Knauerhaze said. “As an organization, we are grateful to have these events so Steve’s legacy will never be forgotten.”
Lauderback headed to the event after working a graveyard shift because he wouldn’t miss the chance to honor his friend.
“This was for somebody who meant a lot to me,” he said. “Events like these show that we don’t forget about those who gave everything for complete strangers.
“It’s good to never forget that.”