Tulare friends mourn CHP officer who died in crash

The Fresno BeeFebruary 21, 2014 

California Highway Patrol Officer Juan Gonzalez.


— Friends who knew CHP officer Juan Gonzalez from his early years of growing up in Tulare said he was quick with a smile and conscientious.

Gonzalez, 33, and fellow CHP officer Brian Law, 34, died Monday when the patrol car they were in went out of control and into a guardrail and sign on Highway 99 in Kingsburg. The pair were responding to a report of a crash on the highway. Gonzalez, the driver, swerved to avoid a pedestrian in the roadway.

Funeral services for the two will be Monday at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, followed by graveside services in Clovis for Law, and Tulare for Gonzalez.

Tulare Union High School history teacher Larry Shanley said Gonzalez stood out in a college prep class. Gonzalez graduated from Tulare Union in 1999.

The Advancement Via Individual Determination class was tailored for students who wanted to go to college and needed a hand, but Gonzalez was so sharp he could have made it on his own, Shanley said.

"He was so driven, I don't remember him having to get extra help," Shanley said. "You gave him something to do and he got it done."

In high school, he knew he wanted to go to Fresno State and major in criminology, his former teacher said. Gonzalez graduated from Fresno State in 2004.

Gonzalez's first job was "courtesy clerk" at Palace Food Depot on Tulare's west side.

He worked at the warehouse-style grocery about 10 years, both part-time during school and full-time when school was out, said owner Steve Gong. His job was to clean up spills, sweep, collect baskets and rush to get an item for a customer in line.

"He worked hard, he followed orders, he was always helping out people," Gong, said. "His supervisor saw that he was a conscientious person" and promoted him to cashier.

After launching his law enforcement career, he'd stop in to see his old co-workers.

"He was just his usual positive, fully good-natured self," Gong said. "He was happy in his job and just really enjoyed it."

Friends said Gonzalez's mother and sister still live in Tulare, and he had a long-time girlfriend.

While at Palace Food Depot, he made friends with fellow cashier Joseph Machado, who went on to a career the California Highway Patrol.

"He did some ride-alongs when I worked the road in Hanford to learn what it was all about," Machado said. "He really enjoyed it."

Once, Machado pulled over a drunken driver who spoke only Spanish, so Gonzalez, who was bilingual, served as the translator during the field sobriety test.

"I could see right there and then he'd be a great officer," Machado said. "He was sharp, he was positive and always smiling. His smile was infectious."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6104, lgriswold@fresnobee.com or @fb_LewGriswold on Twitter.

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