The timing of the ceremony could not have been more sadly appropriate.
Just hours after another law enforcement official lost his life — the third in California to die in the line of duty in five days — dozens of peace officers, survivors of fallen peace officers, as well as organ donors, recipients and those waiting for organ donations gathered Tuesday at the Orange County Sheriff’s Academy for the third-annual Donate for Life Rose Dedication Ceremony.
The event honored 16 fallen peace officers, five from Orange County, whose families were given a red rose to be placed on the Donate Life float at the 2015 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena on New Year’s Day, along with written messages from their loved ones.
The morning event started with a moment of silence for Ventura County Sheriff’s Deputy Eugene Kostiuchenko, killed by a suspected drink driver during a freeway traffic stop at 1:14 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 28, and for two Northern California peace officers fatally gunned down Friday, Oct. 24: Sacramento County Deputy Daniel Oliver and Placer County homicide detective Michael Davis.
Also mentioned was the shooting — at around 4 a.m. Tuesday — of a Pomona Police SWAT officer serving a search warrant in San Gabriel. The 45-year-old officer, Shaun Diamond, later died of his injuries.
“We’ve had a horrific week in law enforcement,” Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens told the assembled gathered in front of the Orange County Peace Officers Memorial, designed to be a peaceful place to reflect and honor loved ones who have died in the line of duty.
Donate Life California, the nonprofit organization responsible for managing the state’s Organ and Tissue Donor Registry, co-sponsored Tuesday’s event with the California Peace Officers’ Memorial Foundation.
“Our fallen officers are gone, but not forgotten,” Wayne Quint, executive director of the California Peace Officers’ Memorial Foundation, told the crowd.
Quint told survivors of the fallen: “We know nothing can erase the pain you all have suffered.”
The five fallen Orange County peace officers recognized Tuesday were:
Officer Nelson K. Sasscer, Santa Ana PD — Sasscer, 24, was killed June 6, 1969, within a half hour of beginning his shift. A member of the militant Black Panther party shot Sasscer before he could draw his weapon.
Sgt. John A. Aguilar, Santa Ana PD — Aguilar died of acute myeloid leukemia on June 30, 1998. His cancer was caused by repeated on-the-job exposure to benzene, a carcinogenic chemical commonly used to produce methamphetamines.
Cpl. Tyler Matthew Pinchot, Buena Park PD — Motor Office Pinchot died on Sept. 21, 2003 from injuries sustained during a pursuit of a traffic violator after he was accidentally struck from the rear by a car.
Sgt. Ira G. Essoe Jr., Orange County Sheriff’s Department — Essoe passed away on Feb. 4, 2010. His death was attributed to two gunshot wounds he sustained on Nov. 6, 1980 after a car-thief suspect shot him outside the Mall of Orange. Paralyzed from the waist down, Essoe spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, battling various infections that resulted in kidney failure, colon cancer and the amputation of both of his legs before he died.
Officer John Coutchie, Laguna Beach PD — Motor Officer Coutchie was struck and killed in a collision with a pickup truck on Sept. 21, 2013 while he was responding to a speeding motorist who had evaded another police officer.
Santa Ana Cpl. Steve Ahearn, profiled recently by Behind the Badge (click here to read the story), was among a handful of speakers who spoke about the need for people to sign up as potential organ, eye and tissue donors (click here to find out how).
Ahearn, 51, needs a new kidney. Despite being on dialysis treatment for three years, he has continued to work full time.
“My utmost respect, condolences and thanks go out to you here today who have lost a son or daughter, a husband or wife, a mother or father, a brother or sister in the line of duty,” said Ahearn, addressing survivors of fallen peace officers.
“I hope to continue to serve in their honor,” Ahearn said. “However, my kidneys are failing — and if I don’t get a transplant, I may be sidelined.”
Nationwide, about 21 people die each day waiting life-saving organ transplants, according to Donate Life California. There are nearly 124,000 people on the National Organ Transplant Waiting List.
Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz, who lost Officer Michael Crain, 35, on Feb. 7, 2013 in the Christopher Dorner shooting rampage, noted the similarities between law enforcement officers and organ donors.
Both have a reverence for life and a desire to serve others, Diaz said.
The Donate Life float has been in the Tournament of Rose Parade since 2004. The theme of the 2015 float is “The Never-Ending Story,” reflecting how donated organs from fallen officers and others whose lives are cut short can result in the gift of life to others.
The other 11 fallen officers recognized Tuesday were Officer Joe Rios, LAPD; Deputy John Paul Monego, Alameda County Sheriff’s Department; Office David M. Romero, CHP; Special Agent Patrick T. Dillon, California Department of Justice; Sgt. Greg Hernandez, Tulare County Sheriff’s Dept.; Officer Ryan P. Bonaminio, Riverside PD; Officer Michael Crain, Riverside PD; Det. Jeremiah MacKay, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Dept.; Sgt. Loran Lee “Butch” Baker Jr., Santa Cruz PD; Officer Gilbert Cortez, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; and Deputy Jeremy Meyst, Tulare County Sheriff’s Dept.
The names and biographies of all California peace officers killed in the line of duty can be found at camemorial.org under the “Honor Roll” tab.