Family, friends and law enforcement from all over Northern California gathered at the ARC Pavilion on Friday morning to say goodbye to Sheriff’s Deputy Tony Diaz, who was shot and killed in the line of duty on Father’s Day.
“Officer down,” said Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto. “This is the call every member of the law enforcement community dreads and hopes never to hear. These are the words broadcast by Yolo County Sheriff’s Deputy Tony Diaz on Sunday, June 15 at 9:30 p.m.”
Prieto fought back tears as he opened the ceremony to honor his fallen colleague. Addressing a crowd of over 600 people, he remembered the 37-year-old deputy as an honorable peace officer, devoted father of three and a good friend.
“We take this moment not just to remember, but to pay tribute to Tony, who upheld the dignity and honor of law enforcement and because of his dedication … paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Prieto said.
Diaz’ ultimate sacrifice came a little over two weeks ago when he was shot in the chest on County Road 99W in Dunnigan during the pursuit of an allegedly drunken driver. Diaz was airlifted to Woodland Memorial Hospital, where he later died.
“Tony will be posthumously awarded the department’s Gold Medal of Valor,” Prieto said. “Not because he followed the suspect – as many have done that – but because when he was mortally wounded, he did not back down…. He made sure that when his backup arrived he was able to give a description and the direction of travel of the suspect that had wounded him.”
The suspect, later identified as 35-year-old Marco Antonio Topete of Arbuckle, Calif., fled on foot. His abandoned car was discovered with his unharmed infant daughter in the backseat.
Police closed down a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 5 after the shooting until Topete was apprehended early the following morning. The suspect has ties to gangs and served 12 years in prison for a previous shooting.
Friday’s ceremony, however, focused more on remembering the life of Tony Diaz than the circumstances surrounding his death.
“Tony’s interest in law enforcement began as a young child,” Prieto said. “But as a career path it would be a long and winding road.”
Diaz, the third-youngest of 10 children, emigrated from Mexico with his parents when he was 4 years old. He began working in the fields with his father when he was 7.
“He came from a foreign country and English was not his first language, but somehow Tony never got the message that life is a struggle,” said Mike McGowan, Yolo County supervisor.
Diaz graduated from Dixon High School and went on to work for Yolo County in the Information Technology Department after teaching himself how to work with computers.
“He would come to the office to work on the computers with a very positive attitude and often had that silly humor that he was famous for,” McGowan said. “He always left the folks in the office in a better mood.”
Diaz attended the sheriff’s academy at night while working for the IT department. He graduated in 2004 and entered field operations in 2005.
“He was proud to be a deputy sheriff – uniform always pressed, boots were always shined, brass was always polished,” said Sergeant Al Williams, Diaz’ supervisor.
By all accounts, Diaz was first and foremost a dedicated father to his three daughters, ages 2, 4 and 16.
“He made it known to all that family came first no matter what,” Williams said.
Diaz was engaged to Julie Yu and spent the afternoon of the day he died celebrating Father’s Day with Yu and her four daughters.
A slideshow complete with everything from black and white pictures of Diaz as a child in Mexico, to home movies of him playing with his children, to a video of a tearful goodbye read by his eldest daughter followed the eulogies.
After the memorial finished, hundreds of law enforcement officers lined both sides of the bike path immediately east of the Pavilion. They saluted as the deputy’s flag-draped coffin was loaded into a car while an honor guard with 14 bagpipes and drums played “Amazing Grace.”
Diaz’ alleged killer has not yet entered a plea but is scheduled to appear in court July 3.
The Sheriff’s Department has created several trusts to benefit Deputy Diaz’ family and children. They can be accessed through the department’s website, yolosheriffs.com.
ALYSOUN BONDE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.