SACRAMENTO, CALIF., JULY 27–It was January 15, 2013. Officer Kevin Tonn and his K-9 partner, Officer Yaro, were patrolling the city of Galt, California, population slightly under 24,000. Yaro sat in the back seat watching the cars and people go by outside his window. Kevin, a three-and-a-half-year veteran of Galt PD, came in that morning to find his window remote had not charged up so he would have to let Yaro out of the car the old-fashioned way: open the door for him. Yaro wouldn’t mind the attention.
At 11:18 a.m. a report of a burglary came in on the 200 block of F Street. Officers arriving on the scene reported that the suspect was gone. Another report came in regarding a man walking along nearby railroad tracks, so Kevin and Yaro positioned themselves in that area and waited. Shortly after 11:30, Kevin spotted a 30-year-old man walking along the tracks. Not knowing if this man was the suspect or not, Kevin got out of his car to make contact, leaving Yaro in the car. At 11:34 Kevin reported to dispatch that he was fighting with a suspect. Eleven seconds later a backup officer arrived just in time to see the suspect shoot Kevin in the face. The suspect pointed the gun at the second officer who couldn’t return fire because of people in the vicinity. The suspect then turned the gun around and fired, killing himself. Yaro, still locked in the car, could do nothing to help his partner except bark.
The National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund reported that in this country an average of one police officer is killed in the line of duty every 57 hours. Fifty-one officers were killed in the first half of 2013 alone, and seven of those were in California. The Law Enforcement Chaplaincy of Sacramento (LECS) is there to support law enforcement officers and families in times of crisis and tragedies such as this. Kevin’s sacrifice is not the first, and it won’t be the last. The chaplains volunteer their time because there is a need, but there is also a need for funds to allow them to continue their work.
Since 1994, the Sacramento Law Enforcement Memorial Run has been the primary event for raising funds. Sacramento Harley-Davidson has partnered with LECS to assist in putting on the run, and at 20 years this is the oldest law enforcement run in the nation. A local band, The Myelins, provided the music at the pre-party on Friday, as well as Saturday at the barbecue. All of the band members are in the medical profession, and bass player Terry Cobb was a brain surgeon. They’ve had two other names in the past, but had a hard time finding a name that another band didn’t already have so they came up with The Myelins. Myelin is the fatty substance that covers and protects nerves in the body—no danger of another band having that name.
I arrived at Sacramento H-D Friday evening for the pre-party where I met Chaplain Jamie Morena who told me that there are 45 law enforcement chaplains and 80 community chaplains. The law enforcement chaplains work directly with the officers and their families, while the community chaplains work with crime victims. These 125 chaplains volunteer to help with this event, along with the Sacramento H-D volunteers serving hot dogs, hamburgers, cookies, drinks and chips for $8 a plate. (The proceeds went to the LECS.)
Mindi Russell, one of only two chaplains at the California Department of Justice, said that this year’s Memorial Run was dedicated to Kevin Tonn. Kevin’s family was at the memorial tribute ceremony, as well as the ride’s end at the opening of the Sacramento Mile at Cal Expo.
Anyone who planned to do more than go to the memorial service in the morning needed to buy a ride package. They ranged in price from $20 to $175 depending on whether you were a single rider, had a passenger, or wanted entrance to the Sacramento Mile, and whether you wanted to sit in reserved seating or general seating. The more you wanted, the more it cost, and all proceeds went to the LECS. The opening ceremony honoring Kevin included the Warrior Guard, a group of motorcyclists who come together to raise monies in support of the LECS mission, riding onto the track to kick the ceremony off. The LECS also partnered with the Red Lion Woodlake Hotel, which had special room rates for those riders wishing to stay overnight Friday or Saturday.
In addition to raffle prizes, the LECS was also giving away four grand prizes: an Apple Basket containing an iPad and assorted accessories, a three-day, two-night Las Vegas trip that included a car rental, hotel and $250 cash, his and her “Thin Blue Line” rings created especially for the run by Shariff Jewelers, and a brand-new Glock pistol. Tickets for these items were $20 each; five got you a sixth one free.
Saturday morning came and sign-in at Woodlake Park was between 7:00 and 8:30. The crowd was large; there were hundreds of bikes on the street and the LECS supplied coffee and lots of donuts prior to the ceremony. Although the Law Enforcement Memorial is impressive, it is also simple and elegant. The centerpiece is a granite obelisk about 24′ tall with a semi-circular granite wall behind it that’s about 16’ tall consisting of eight connected columns. At the top of the wall are the words “Sacramento Police” on the left side and “Sheriff’s Memorial” on the right. There are 31 shorter columns throughout the monument area, each containing a brass star on top with the name of an officer from Sacramento County who has died in the line of duty.
The ceremony started with Chaplain Todd Gearou singing the national anthem and was followed by a color guard consisting of members from the Elk Grove Police Department and the Sacramento Sheriff’s Office who presented the American and California state flags on each side of the obelisk.
Chief Sam Somers of the Sacramento PD said, “Even though the memorial says ‘Police’ and ‘Sheriff,’ it covers all agencies in this region. I’d like to thank all of you because you’re here to support these men and women.”
Then Chief Somers and Lt. Tim Cullen of Sacramento SO came up and gave roll call for the officers who had reached End of Watch, the names of all 31 officers listed on the memorial, and added the 32nd name, Officer Kevin Tonn. Next, Retired Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy Bill Tubbs, in full traditional dress, came forward and played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes. Kevin’s uncle, Ed Tonn, stood at one of the posts and held up a plaque that read, “Kevin Tonn E.O.W. January 15, 2013.” Red and yellow long-stem roses were given to the Tonn family to place at the memorial; red for “I Love You Forever” and yellow for “Remember Me.” Enough were brought to allow anyone in the crowd to leave a rose as well.
Chaplain Russell, fighting back tears, came back up and said, “Simply wearing the uniform of a police officer is an act of heroism in itself.” She asked for a moment of silence and then announced the planting of a new tree at the memorial. It was an umbrella tree, which symbolizes protection. She said, “The flower of the umbrella tree blooms for a short time and falls off. It symbolizes the futility of life.”
After the ceremony riders started heading out of the park to their destination, Western Gateway Park in Penn Valley about 70 miles away. The little delta town of Isleton used to be the destination, but that was changed this year. We drove west on Interstate 80, took Bell Road to Highway 49, then onto Highway 20 and into the town of Penn Valley. Once we arrived at the park the party started, lunch was being served and everyone was hungry since the donuts had burned off. There were 13 different vendors onsite and raffle tickets were on sale for the more than 50 prizes, 15 of which were $50 Harley gift cards. Lunch consisted of barbecue beef and/or barbecue chicken, mashed potatoes, salad and a roll with butter. If you didn’t purchase a run package with a lunch ticket the meal was $10, but the proceeds went to the LECS.
During lunch I talked with Ed Tonn, who said things could have been a lot worse. When the police searched the suspect’s home they found a suicide note. He loaded up a revolver with six .357 caliber rounds and put another six in a speed loader. Both were on him when he shot himself. The note said that he had planned to go out and shoot as many people as he could so that the police would kill him. Kevin’s intervention in that plan quite possibly saved the lives of 12 people.
After lunch, winners of the grand prizes were announced: John Boule of Roseville won the rings, Neal Schneider won the Las Vegas trip, Douglas Smith of West Sacramento won the Apple basket and Blair Will of Placerville won the Glock. Since winners didn’t need to be present to win, the only one still there to claim his prize was John Boule and he was a very happy camper.
I assembled with 14 members of the Warrior Guard around 5:30 p.m. at the Sacramento Fairgrounds. Dan Ballino, who along with his father, Bob Ballino of Circle Bell Motorsports, put on the Sacramento Mile. Dan said that he and his father were happy to partner with the LECS as they come from a family of teachers and have bonded with the community. Once everything was set, 14 Harleys rolled out onto the track and came to rest in front of the grandstands by the finish line. Todd sang the national anthem once more to start the races and Chaplain Russell presented a plaque to Kevin’s parents, Mary Ann and Will Tonn. She told the crowd, “Let’s all take a moment to recognize that freedom comes with a cost.” The Tonn family knows full well what that cost can be. Yaro, in the meantime, is retired from police work and lives with Kevin’s brother, just being the family dog. A friend of the family told me that Kevin would like that.