Clovis News

Deputy 'Wally' honored by hundreds at services

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  • Share your thoughts and memories about Deputy Joel Wahlenmaier and Officer Javier Bejar
  • Fresno County sheriff's deputy Joel Wahlenmaier was eulogized as "honest, brave, kind and true" in services Wednesday attended by hundreds, including law enforcement officers from as far away as Reno, Nev.

    Fellow deputies told stories about the friend they called "Wally" -- a man who would stalk elk in Montana, swipe your fries at lunch, and carry your little girl back up the snowy hill when she was sledding.

    "There are few things as traumatic in law enforcement as losing one of our own," Sheriff Margaret Mims said. "It shakes us to the core."

    Mims described her fallen deputy, killed in a shootout Feb. 25 with an arson suspect in rural Minkler, as "not just a great deputy sheriff but an all-around good, good man."

    She briefly described what happened that morning in Minkler. Wahlenmaier, 49, a detective, told his wife, Bev, that he would be helping serve a search warrant that day. He didn't know that the suspect, Ricky Liles, 51, had other plans for him.

    "He was with his team doing his job when shots were fired," Mims said. "His partners valiantly and at great danger to themselves were able to remove him from that place of violence, but his injuries were too severe."

    Wahlenmaier died a short time later at Community Regional Medical Center. On Monday, Reedley police officer Javier Bejar also died from injuries received in the shootout. Services for Bejar are scheduled for next Monday.

    Wednesday morning's service at Peoples Church in northeast Fresno was attended by 2,000 to 3,000 people, the Sheriff's Office said. At midafternoon, Wahlenmaier was buried at Clovis Cemetery.

    Traffic was tied up as far away as Highway 41 south of Herndon Avenue before the service, and Herndon was closed at midday so that hundreds of squad cars could proceed to the burial site.

    At the church, more than two dozen funeral wreaths formed a backdrop for four fellow deputies who spent 40 minutes remembering Wahlenmaier.

    His flag-covered casket rested at the foot of the stage, framed by twin copies of his portrait on easels. Two deputies stood guard, a practice that Mims said began at the moment of his death six days earlier.

    Outside, a sunny sky turned overcast. By early afternoon, a few raindrops had begun to fall.

    Wahlenmaier was often a man of few words and sometimes a big talker, a physically fit man but a big eater, deputy Joe Smith said.

    "I know you can't tell by looking at his picture but he could put it away," Smith said. "You never made the mistake of going to the restroom before your meal came. You'd come back and half your fries were gone and your pickle was missing."

    Basketball was a passion, deputy Kent Jones said, and Wahlenmaier did nothing halfway.

    "He played pretty good defense -- if you think tackling people and putting them in the wall as they were going for a layup is defense," Jones recalled.

    "Wally played the game like a hockey player high on Red Bull."

    He showed a different side to Smith's 3-year-old daughter on a recent outing at Shaver Lake.

    The little girl "didn't like the snow," Smith said. "She didn't want to touch it or walk in it. So Wally would walk down there and pick her up and walk back up with her on the sled. And she wanted to 'Do it again, Wally.' "

    The funeral procession crossed Willow Avenue on Herndon just after noon, and kept going for about an hour.

    More than 100 law enforcement agencies were represented.

    Hundreds of people lined Herndon to watch the procession. People waited patiently for up to two hours before the first vehicles appeared.

    "It's important that we show we care," said Ron Burchfield, a Fresno resident who once served in the military police for the U.S. Army.

    Troy Stokes was among a crowd who gathered early to see the procession.

    Asked why he felt it was important to watch, Stokes cried. He said his father once worked in law enforcement, his brother is a Fresno County sheriff's deputy, and one of his close friends was Erik Telen, a Fresno County deputy killed in an ambush in 2001.

    "I take it kind of personally," Stokes said. "It was important to honor them."

    Likewise, Lauri Hinson's husband is a Corcoran police officer, so the killings served as a reality check -- she could lose him any time. But she attended the procession to recognize the fallen officers.

    Many in the crowd were friends and family members of law enforcement or retired law enforcement personnel. Others said they had no connection to the department but felt it was just important to be there to honor the fallen officers.

    They stood and watched as Fresno firefighters used two ladder trucks to raise a 30-foot-wide American flag over Herndon. High winds forced them to take the flag down, but they kept the ladders up, in replication of crossed swords.

    Shot, killed in the line of duty

    Central San Joaquin Valley officers shot and killed in the line of duty (listed by year, officer and agency):

    1889: John Nicholas Wren, Tulare County Sheriff

    1892: Oscar A. Beaver, Tulare County Sheriff

    1907: Harry Van Meter, Fresno Police

    1911: J.A. McClure, San Joaquin Valley Railroad

    1919: Jack Chelton Harris Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad

    1924: George William Boyle, Kingsburg Constable 1931: F.G. Campbell, Fresno Police

    1931: J.O. Brame, Fresno Police

    1951: Carl Oscar Johnson, Tulare County Sheriff

    1973: Sal Mosqueda, Fresno Police

    1975: Steven Lindblom, Madera County Sheriff

    1975: Alfred Turner, California Highway Patrol

    1975: Sixto Maldonado, Firebaugh Police

    1979: Lanny Stevenson, Fresno Police

    1981: Michael David Avila, Parlier Police

    1998: James Rapozo, Visalia Police

    2001: Erik Telen, Fresno County Sheriff

    2002: Dennis Phelps, Fresno County Sheriff

    2004: Stephan Gray, Merced Police

    2007: Kent Haws, Tulare County Sheriff

    2010: Joel Wahlenmaier, Fresno County Sheriff

    2010: Javier Bejar, Reedley Police

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