Family, friends and hundreds of California peace officers remembered Bakersfield Police Department Officer David Nelson as a cowboy with a big heart before laying him to rest Wednesday under pine and eucalyptus trees at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.
The athletic 26-year-old died early Friday at Kern Medical Center from injuries suffered when he crashed his patrol car shortly before, during a pursuit in northeast Bakersfield.
Nelson was in the early stages of his career, having come to Bakersfield from Burbank Police Department where he'd been a cadet from 2008 to 2012.
But more than 1,000 people gave the dedicated patrolman an end-of-watch send-off worthy of BPD's eighth officer to die in the line of duty -- and its first officer lost in more than 31 years.
"Once in 30 years is too often, and hopefully it won't happen ever again," said Assistant City Manager Steve Teglia in a telephone interview from City Hall North. Bakersfield opened council chambers at City Hall South to members of the public to view Nelson's services via the Internet on Wednesday afternoon.
And as they do at times like these, police officers drove from Ridgecrest and Brea, from Gardena and Montclair and Porterville to pay their respects at the Hollywood Hills Forest Lawn Memorial Park and at his gravesite nearby.
"They're heroes. It's a calling. When you hear bullets, most people run away," said Los Angeles Police Department Sgt. Frank Preciado, describing the significance of a large police presence when an officer dies in the line of duty.
Officers from the LAPD Mounted Unit led a riderless horse before Nelson's hearse -- a tradition symbolizing the fallen -- when it arrived in Glendale.
It's a storied location where actor Humphrey Bogart, singer Nat "King" Cole, performer Sammy Davis Jr. and "The Wizard of Oz" author L. Frank Baum are among the famous interred.
Nearer Nelson, whose gravesite is overlooked by The Freedom Mausoleum, are buried 1950s leading man Alan Ladd and Walt Disney.
And those who remembered Nelson said if he had lived, he would likely have gone on to forge his own legend -- in law enforcement.
Cindy Guillen, a community resources officer with Burbank police, was struck by the fact that Nelson had left her department just two years and two days before his death.
"It's a shame that we lose someone so young and so soon into their career," said Guillen, who worked with Nelson when he was a cadet, the precursor to becoming an officer. "He was a very bright kid, very smart, athletic and he always took self-initiative, and I think that's what made him stand out from the rest. He was just sharp."
Joshua Kendrick, another Burbank Police Department community resources officer, said Nelson was equal parts serious and fun -- but really shone during the department's annual Shop With a Cop holiday event.
"That's something he really enjoyed, taking less fortunate kids and helping them find some things for Christmas," Kendrick said.
Hundreds of state and local law enforcement officials joined city officials at Nelson's services.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green attended, as did Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall, and councilmen Terry Maxwell and Chris Parlier.
Interviewed from the front seat of a pickup truck Wednesday morning, Parlier said he and Maxwell, who rode together, were part of a convoy from Bakersfield he estimated at 100 vehicles.
"You meet any young officer, I look at every one of them as Officer Nelson, just a young, conscientious, hard-working person trying to do their job. They're all Officer Nelsons to me," said Parlier, a retired California Department of Justice special agent. "We feel it's one of our own, one of our sons that this has happened to. It really hits home."
Maxwell said he's not certain, but he thinks Nelson once pulled him over and gave him a cell phone ticket.
"It was a younger gentleman," Maxwell said in an interview, describing the Bakersfield officer as very professional.
"We take pride in all our officers and it's a tragedy," he added.
Overcast skies gave way to sun shortly before Nelson's funeral cortege arrived in Glendale.
Members of the Los Angeles Police Emerald Society Pipes and Drums played "Amazing Grace," and "Ian Campbell, LAPD" on bagpipes before an honor guard fired a salute and three police helicopters flew overhead in a missing man formation.
Both songs are traditionally played at fallen officers' funerals.
Nelson was eulogized at his gravesite as someone who "thought that he was a cowboy."
On Wednesday, Bakersfield police did not discuss Nelson's death, or the traffic stop he made shortly before his fatal crash at Panorama Drive and Mount Vernon Avenue.
Through BPD, Nelson's family has declined to speak with members of the media.
BPD Sgt. Uriel Pacheco, the department's spokesman at the services, said he just wanted to focus on Nelson.
"He was a very dedicated, trustworthy, courageous young man. Very respectful and with a great sense of humor," Pacheco said after the graveside service, recalling Nelson's "cowboy boots being present at the church service."
"The entire Bakersfield Police Department is saddened and devastated by the tragic loss of one of our own," Pacheco said in a statement. "We greatly mourn his death."
Julian Carlos Hernandez, 32, was arrested Saturday in Bakersfield and is being held on $600,000 bail in connection with the crash that killed Nelson.
He pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Kern County Superior Court to five felonies including vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.