The month of October has proven to be one of the most trying and difficult periods in recent history, both of the department and the POA. Early in the month, we were hit hard and to the core with the senseless death of Stacee Etcheber during the massacre in Las Vegas. Stacee and her husband, veteran officer Vinnie Etcheber, were at the concert when the shots rang out. Vinnie told Stacee to run while he immediately began to drag people to safety and render aid to those who were injured. Stacee did not survive.
It has been difficult for many officers, including myself, to wrap our heads around this tragic event and deal with the loss of such a wonderful, loving, and caring wife, mother, daughter, and friend. We have seen enough death and violence on the job, but we never thought it would hit so close to home.
While we were escorting Stacee to her place of rest in Novato on the day of the funeral, it was impossible to dismiss the enormous disaster unfolding around us in the north bay. As the procession was being led by the SFPD Traffic Company and the California Highway Patrol the thick smoke in the air reminded us of those who had lost their lives and those who had lost their homes in the devastating wildfires in Sonoma and Napa Counties.
The POA had active and retired members lose everything in these infernos, and many members were displaced. Regardless, our members responded to the fire zones to provide mutual aid to our brothers and sisters in those jurisdictions who were completely overwhelmed and overworked for such a catastrophic event.
During these difficult days we sadly and suddenly lost the wife of one of our members assigned to the TAC/EOD Unit. Another loss that has hit us hard and makes us re-examine our direction and our purpose.
The hits kept coming when on October 18th Officer Elia Lewin-Tankel was deliberately and viciously struck down by a crazed, repeat violent felon using a three-thousand-pound vehicle as a weapon. Elia sustained massive head injuries for which he is still in the ICU ward at San Francisco General Hospital. The prior convicted felon is in custody being cared for at the county jail while Elia struggles in pain every day. I’m sorry but I am not and cannot be objective here.
Throughout all of these traumatic and horrific events there has been one thing that has shined through for us who have chosen or who have been called to this profession.
The tremendous support and outreach by those who we serve and those who we have never even had any contact with has been beyond belief. The Etcheber and Lewin-Tankel family members, along with others impacted by these life altering events, cannot thank you and the community enough, and neither can I.
There were so many displays of heartfelt sympathy and condolences demonstrated by law enforcement and by the public at large after all of these tragedies. But, there is one that still sticks in my mind. I shared this story with my fellow officers after we laid Stacee to rest in Novato, and many of them noted the same thing I did.
As we escorted Stacee north on 101 led by the huge motorcycle contingency, the freeway was cleared of all other vehicles. At the overpasses there were civilians along with uniformed police and fire personnel standing at attention. We have seen this before and it is impressive to even veteran officers.
At one point, on the almost deserted freeway, I noticed a yellow tow truck on the right shoulder with the driver assisting a stranded motorist. As the procession approached, the tow truck driver stopped what he was doing, he stood at attention, and he placed his hand over his heart while the female stranded motorist stood by his side. It was respectful and touching and demonstrated the support we have from all whom we serve.
Even though we are hurting and struggling in these times it is knowing that we have the support from our community that comforts us and pushes us on to serve, protect, and prevail. We thank you.