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Manteca officers escort fallen Oakland comrade

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Manteca officers escort fallen Oakland comrade

Manteca's five motorcycle officers joined in escorting the body of Oakland Sergeant Mark Dunakin of Tracy and his family to funeral services in the Bay Area Friday.

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin


POSTED March 28, 2009 5:08 a.m.
Five Manteca motorcycle officers joined  the police escort Friday morning for the fallen Oakland officer from Tracy — Sgt. Mark Dunakin — leading his funeral procession to the Bay Area services at Oracle Stadium.

The Manteca officers — led by sergeant Nick Obligacion - joined with officers from Tracy, Oakland, and San Jose leaving the Fry Chapel in Tracy at about 8:30 a.m. for Oakland.

Some 20 other Manteca officers, from detectives to patrol and SWAT members, had left earlier in the morning. They had parked along the Highway 120 Bypass onramp at Airport Way where they waited to join police vehicles from Stanislaus County, Turlock and Merced - feathering into their legion of flashing red and blue lights in the inside lane of the freeway.

California Highway Patrolmen closed the westbound freeway lanes some five minutes before the funeral procession snaked its way out of Eleventh Street in Tracy and entered I-205.  As the motorcycle officers led the caravan onto the freeway, they found it was totally empty of commute traffic, giving them the uncluttered inside lane.

One Manteca Ambulance unit joined in the caravan as it left the valley to head to the Bay Area.  It was a show of spirit and a display of the closeness the emergency workers share with police and fire personnel in Manteca.  It was not only the effort of general manager Dana Solomon, but of two emergency medical technicians who drove in the procession without pay - donating their time.

Manteca dispatchers fill in for their Oakland counterparts
The ambulance would later be a resource for officers when an Oakland motorcycle lieutenant crashed, reportedly as a result of dehydration, on the return family escort to Tracy.

Two Manteca Police dispatchers - Lisa Blackburn and Jennifer Ducker - also went to Oakland,  but not to attend the funeral. They went to the Oakland dispatch center where they relieved Oakland dispatchers allowing them to attend the services of officers they had dispatched on the streets.  

Manteca motorcycle officer Patrick Danipour said his day was “overwhelming,”  heralding  the support of citizens who were yelling thank you and waving to passing officers.  

“I was really surprised by that - even in Oakland,” he said.

Danipour said he saw nothing negative - not one protester - during the day, as he and the other officers joined some 18,000 law enforcement personnel in the stadium. Over 20,000 attended the funeral services.

Another Manteca motor officer, Bill Walmer, said it had been “an emotional roller coaster” for him since the shooting occurred on Saturday. Walmer was recently assigned to the motor unit team, and has long wanted to be part of SWAT.

Motor officer John Machado said he was touched to see so many officers coming to California from so far away as Canada, Philadelphia and Boston. The rumor had it that Boston airlifted officers’ motorcycles to Oakland for the funeral.

Machado said he and his fellow officers from Manteca were sitting above and across from the grieving family members during the services where they could constantly see them. They witnessed their grief first-hand through noticing their body language, the shaking and the crying.

Officer David Bright said he could see a boy, about 10, sitting next to his mother with his face capped in the palms of his hands - something that left an indelible mark in his memory.

The officers said that every overpass they passed was the same - filled with members of the public, firefighters and police officers. Some stood in silence while others waved.

Several fire department ladder trucks with their ladders fully extended and meeting together in an inversed “V” high above the bridges - where they had hung large American flags.  

It was about 3 p.m. when the procession was traveling back toward Tracy that an accident happened -- a motorcycle officer from Oakland crashed - and a Manteca Ambulance was there in the procession.

Officers in the escort formation were not in a position to stop.

Manteca Ambulance aids Oakland officer
EMTs Heather Bonetti and James Barr had pulled off the freeway, going to a restaurant to eat a late lunch with a couple of police officers before heading up the Altamont Pass.  As they finished and were approaching the freeway, the procession passed them by.

Bonetti said they immediately got back onto the freeway, turned on their emergency lights as they  fell into line with the caravan. An Emergency Medical Response (AMR) supervisor,  who had been behind them, drove alongside the driver’s door with his lights and siren sounding.

He shouted that there was an officer down in the roadway ahead of them who had just crashed in the escort formation. The two Manteca medics and the AMR supervisor worked as a team rendering aid to the officer - an Oakland lieutenant who had been a speaker at the funeral.

He had reportedly suffered from dehydration, and the stressful day he had experienced from early in the morning. He had ridden in from Oakland to Tracy and then back to Oakland in addition to his day in the stadium.

Bonetti said as they were attending to the lieutenant when there was another crash in lanes above them in the westbound direction.  She ran up the hill to check on the motorists and their injuries. While she was inside a damaged black Escalade  with one victim,  another rear-end crash happened right behind that vehicle.

Yet another rear-end accident would happen within a few minutes behind her ambulance in the eastbound lanes.

Once fire medics arrived she returned to her ambulance in the  lanes below where the Oakland officer had been loaded up and was ready for transport. With Manteca medic James Barr and the AMR supervisor “Mario” in the back with the patient, she drove to the Eaton Hospital in Castro Valley.

Stranger shows his thanks to officers
Four Oakland police officers escorted the ambulance all the way to the hospital emergency room where the injured officer was treated for his injuries.  

Bonetti and Barr said the Oakland officers continually voiced their appreciation for the Manteca ambulance, and for its crew being with them when they were needed most.  They also credited  Bonetti as being  an excellent driver.

Bonetti said it was an honor to just be there and to be part of the day. She credited her partner James Barr with originally coming up with the idea that they drive the ambulance in the procession on their own without pay.

Most of the officers in the escort had not eaten all day - Manteca’s were no exception.  They stopped for dinner about 6:30 at a Japanese restaurant in Ripon. As they were starting their meals, another diner walked over to the table and put $50 in cash on the table saying, “That’s for dinner - I like what you do!”

“No, no, we can’t take that,” one officer immediately responded, but the man hastened out the door.  Motor Sergeant Nick Obligacion got up and followed the grateful  donor - thanking him, but explaining they couldn’t accept the money.

They would instead see that it went to someone in need - with respect to the Ripon man’s intentions.  They were all visibly awed by his act of kindness and support for them and for their brothers and sisters in law enforcement.
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