Editor’s note: Wyatt is a sergeant with the Anaheim PD and was a close friend of Placentia PD Lt. Kenneth Alexander, who died Nov. 9, 2014, after suffering a massive heart attack five days prior. As the one-year anniversary of Alexander’s death approaches, Wyatt writes about missing his close friend.
Nov. 4, 2014
It was just before 6 a.m. and the house phone rang. I wasn’t quite awake yet, but having worked most of my career in assignments that had me on call, I was used to receiving phone calls at all times of the day and night.
I was not, however, prepared for this call — one that will live with me forever.
It was Sgt. Bryce Angel form the Placentia Police Department.
“Daron, it’s Bryce. Has anyone called you about Kenny?”
“No, what about Kenny?”
“He’s had a massive heart attack and is at St. Jude. It isn’t looking good.”
There’s no way, was my first reaction. This isn’t funny.
But the tone of Bryce’s voice said it all. I quickly dressed and started driving to St. Jude Hospital in Fullerton. During the drive, my mind kept bouncing between disbelief, and thinking how different life would be without Kenny in it. I mean, Kenny was just a few weeks shy of his 49th birthday and was in great health. Runner. Cyclist. SWAT guy. There’s no way he could have had a heart attack.
A friendship is forged
I met Kenny in 1988. We were both young new cops at the Tustin PD. I had been on for a little over a year and Kenny was just starting fresh out of the U.S. Army. Kenny’s personality was larger than life and people were drawn to him. He was a prankster and always had people laughing. He also was a goofball and we often wondered if he wasn’t really a 13- year-old in a 22-year-old body.
A few months later, while Kenny was still in the FTO (field training officer) program, I saw him walking down the hall in uniform without his badge on his chest. He had a dejected look on his face and I immediately knew what was going on. Things hadn’t worked out at Tustin, and he had resigned.
It couldn’t have been an easy decision and words were not appropriate or necessary. I just gave him a hug. That simple gesture forged a relationship that lasted over the next quarter century.
Not long after leaving the Tustin PD, Kenny was hired by the now defunct Los Angeles City Housing Authority Police Department. Kenny worked for the Housing Authority in some of the roughest projects in Los Angeles for the next nine years. He worked patrol, SWAT, gangs and narcotics and was awarded the Medal of Valor in 1996.
Kenny and I talked occasionally over the years, but in 1997 our paths crossed again in a big way. Things hadn’t worked out at Tustin for me either, and by the end of 1995 I landed at the Placentia PD.
Kenny was co-owner of a tactical training group, HSS International, and the group was providing training for the Placentia PD. Kenny grew close to many of the Placentia people and lateralled to the Placentia PD in 1997.
By that time, Kenny had gone back into the Army Reserves and was attached to the 19th Special Forces Group. He had become a skilled tactical operator and trainer and was a driving force in the formation of the first regionalized SWAT team in Orange County, the Quad City Special Response Team (now North County SWAT).
Kenny had a knack for dealing with kids and excelled as a DARE Instructor. His DARE students are probably the only fifth-graders in the country to have to rappel from a helicopter to finish the program.
A genuine hero
In 2002, Kenny was awarded the Placentia PD’s Distinguished Service Medal for his actions as one of the first responders on a major train catastrophe in Placentia when a freight train collided with a commuter train.
Also in the mid-2000s, Ken served multiple deployments in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. He was ultimately awarded a Bronze Star for Valor for the role he played in the rescue operation of Jessica Lynch, the first U.S Prisoner of War to be rescued by U.S. forces since World War II. He also was the recipient of the Combat Infantryman Badge and the Expert Infantryman Badge.
Always a Giver
Kenny was always a giver. One year my family and I were going on an overseas vacation. We were standing in front of the house waiting for the airport shuttle when this big white Suburban came skidding around the corner.
Of course, it was Kenny.
He jumped out, ran up and kissed me like only Kenny would do and gave the kids each an activity pack to keep them occupied on the plane.
Did I say that he kissed me? Yep, that was Kenny’s trademark. He would always kiss his friends on the cheek. It was only uncomfortable the first time. After that, you just knew that Kenny loved you and considered you a friend.
Kenny spent nearly a week in ICU at St. Jude.
There were some hopeful moments when we thought he was improving and was going to pull through. He was surrounded by his family: mom Carol, brothers Ben and Paul, sister Robin, sons Byron, Sean and Tyler, wife Michelle, and stepson Jonah, plus his police family from around Southern California.
I remember like it was yesterday working overtime at the Ducks game that Friday night.
Eric Anderson, an officer at the Anaheim PD, called me from the hospital and said Kenny had taken a turn for the worse and said it would be a good idea for me to come back to St. Jude.
It took me about 40 minutes to get there and when I pulled into the parking lot there were police units everywhere: Placentia, Fullerton, La Habra, Brea, CSUF, La Palma, Anaheim, Monterey Park.
I felt like I had been punched in the gut and immediately thought I hadn’t made it in time.
I ran down the hall literally sobbing like a baby. Placentia Sgt. Brian Perry grabbed me in a bear hug and whispered into my ear that Ken was still alive. It was a slight reprieve.
Over the next two days, while Ken’s family met with doctors and talked about the reality of a recovery, we all cycled through Kenny’s room telling stories, laughing, crying and praying.
Some very difficult decisions were made and it was determined that Kenny would want to donate his organs so that he could continue giving to others.
Unbeknownst to many of us, there was a very tight window. Kenny’s heart had to stop beating on its own within a certain amount of time after the machines were stopped. If not, the organs would not be useful to a recipient.
The clock was ticking and we were all on pins and needles.
It was looking like it was inevitable that Kenny would pass, but not within the time frame needed to donate the organs.
In true Kenny fashion, he took it down to the last few minutes.
There were a few dozen of us still at the hospital in the late evening of Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014 when we were finally told that Kenny was gone.
The doctors confirmed that the organ team had taken Kenny’s organs and were rushing them to other hospitals for the donation procedures. It was fitting for Kenny, whose Special Forces motto was “So Others May Live.”
It’s been a year now and I still miss my friend every day.
But, if you ask me now what life is like without Kenny, I would have to tell you to ask the families of those lucky people that received his organs.
You see, Kenny lives on.