Hundreds of law enforcement officers from throughout the state joined family, friends and members of the public to celebrate the life of Fresno County sheriff’s Sgt. Rod Lucas.
Lucas was killed in an accidental shooting on Oct. 31 involving a fellow deputy at a department building near Fresno Yosemite International Airport.
On Wednesday, law enforcement officers representing nearly 100 different agencies from local to federal came to pay their respects at a standing-room-only funeral service held at Peoples Church in northeast Fresno. Following the service, Lucas was buried during a private service in Lemoore District Cemetery.
The 46-year-old deputy, who worked patrol, narcotics and later became a sergeant, was remembered as loving family man, a Christian, caring community member and one tough lawman.
Longtime friend and sheriff’s Deputy Patrick Hansen said he and Lucas joined the department about the same time 20 years ago. And it was clear from the beginning that Lucas was like no other cop. His broad shoulders and athletic physique reflected his love of football, wrestling and boxing.
But it was his unbridled enthusiasm for catching bad guys that caught his supervisor’s attention.
Hansen remembers the time he and Lucas chased a suspect into a home that was fortified with iron bars on the windows. As Hansen was trying to talk to the people inside the house, Lucas was hanging on the window, trying to pry it off the wall.
Soon after, a sergeant arrived on the scene. The sergeant, who was fond of calling the young deputies, mijo, a Spanish slang term for son, was surprised at what he saw.
Hansen said the sergeant yelled at Lucas: “Rod, mijo, get off the window.”
As an athlete, Lucas was a gold medal winner in the Police Olympics boxing competition. Hansen said he regretted the day Lucas talked him into being his sparring partner. While Hansen landed a few punches, Lucas eventually lowered the boom on him with a shot to the body.
“My ribs felt like I had been hit by a semitruck,” Hansen said. “I didn’t take a deep breath for two months and never stepped back in the ring with him again.”
As tough as Lucas was, he was also a dedicated family man and Christian who deeply loved his wife, Jami. The pair met at West Hills College in 1989 and married a year later. They have four children.
“Jami, you are the love of his life,” Hansen said.
Friend Mike Chaffin credits Lucas for guiding him to Christianity. About 15 years ago, he and Lucas went on a fishing trip and while Chaffin fished, Lucas talked about his love of God.
“He talked for nearly two hours,” Chaffin said. “And at one point he turned to me and said, ‘You know, Mike, it takes a real man to serve God,’ and that stuck with me.”
Although they didn’t catch anything, Chaffin realized years later that Lucas wasn’t looking for fish that day; he was hoping to bring him closer to God.
“He was always trying to make everyone better,” Chaffin said. “I am deeply honored to have known this man.”
Lucas, who grew up in Tranquillity and eventually settled in Lemoore, was devoted to his community. He coached youth football for years, including his son’s team.
Members of the 12 and under team proudly wore their jerseys to the funeral.
“He was a tough coach,” 11-year-old Eric Meireles recalled after the service. “But we had a lot of respect for him. He made us work hard and he showed us we could do it. We are going to miss him.”
The team has a semifinal game this week, and if they win, they will play for the championship the following week.
“He was a great man,” said Frank Oregel, the team’s head coach. “And we were more than just a team; we were a family. So when one of us hurts, we all hurt.”