Blair Budai and Kyle Brown want to help reinforce law enforcement’s thin blue line.
That’s why since the June 26 death of Bakersfield Police Department Officer David Nelson, fatally injured in a single-vehicle crash during a pursuit, the two men have been raising funds for a memorial scholarship established by Nelson’s family in his name.
Bakersfield’s free, public memorial ceremony for Nelson, a two-year patrolman who had recently finished coursework to become a field training officer, will be at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Rabobank Arena.
“It has been a very difficult time for Officer Nelson’s family, the Bakersfield Police Department and the community,” Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson said in a statement Monday, calling Nelson’s death tragic and thanking residents for their many expressions of condolence.
Tributes to Bakersfield’s first fallen officer in more than 31 years are expected to continue.
On Sunday night, many residents are expected to turn porch or outdoor lights blue at the urging of a Facebook page, in support of Nelson.
It’s called Lights On for Officer David Nelson.
Budai, whose lighting company is Lighting in Style, and Brown, executive director of the Kern County Bridal Association, offered nearly 300 blue light bulbs they purchased for a suggested cash donation of $6, with all proceeds going to the memorial scholarship.
“It was a tragedy and I wanted to show support for this officer who gave so much, and for the department as a whole because it could have been any officer. BPD works to keep the peace and they're a big part of our community,” said Budai, whose brother works in law enforcement.
“We're not selling them. This is a donation outright to the memorial fund. We paid for the bulbs, you make the contribution,” Budai said.
All were quickly spoken for.
The first 57, which Budai purchased at Lowe’s in the days following Nelson’s death (and which he made available Thursday at the Bridal Association), sold out that morning.
Brown ordered 240 more, at a cost of around $300. They arrived late Monday and were all claimed by day’s end.
On Tuesday, while around 40 were still available, Ernie Carabajal, a retired BPD senior police officer, and his wife called to reserve two.
“I attended a lot of funerals like this. All funerals are sad, but this one especially,” Carabajal said, referring to Nelson’s funeral July 1 in Glendale. “He was such a young man, and being with the department just a couple years. He was just getting started.”
Before the second shipment arrived, demand was so strong that Brown, a law enforcement supporter whose four porch lights at his business are all blue bulbs, removed two and gave them to scholarship contributors who couldn’t wait for the shipment to arrive.
“I don't have anybody in the family that's in (law enforcement). I just feel like they put their lives on the line all the time and so what little support we can show them (is justified). ... It's just showing that we're behind them,” Brown said.
Officers from BPD and Bakersfield Fire Department are expected to turn out en masse at the memorial. Several Bakersfield City Council members contacted said they will attend too.
“Every member of the city of Bakersfield staff is his family, and ... at times like this it's only appropriate that we memorialize and remember people who have given their service and their life to the city,” said Councilman Willie Rivera, who represents the southeast and will be attending.
As they did in May at a city ceremony during National Peace Officer Memorial Week, two BFD ladder trucks will park and extend their ladders, to hang the department’s oversized American flag outside the arena.
BFD will also send four fire engines, a hazardous materials vehicle, a command staff vehicle, “and as many off-duty personnel as can show up,” Battalion Chief Danny Brown said. “We will have a definite show of support for our brothers in blue.”
Tuesday’s ceremony is expected to last at least one hour, and will feature speeches by three BPD staffers: Williamson, Sgt. Charles Sherman and Mayor Harvey Hall.
Bakersfield Planning Commissioner Jeffrey Tkac, a 28-year BPD reserve officer, said he volunteered to work a shift so another officer can attend, but will go if he’s not needed on the beat.
Tkac, who had worked with Nelson before, said the 26-year-old “was going to become ’a cop’s cop,’” and praised his performance during a rainy traffic stop he observed about six months ago.
“He was in command of that call, and if you would have told me had only 18 or 19 or 20 months on, I never would have believed it. He literally stood there in the rain and got drenched and never lost focus,” Tkac said.