David Nelson was long interested in law enforcement, and toward the end of his time at Occidental College, interned at the U.S. Treasury Department in a desk job.
And there he realized a desk job wasn’t for him.
Nelson went on to work at the Burbank Police Department, as a cadet for four years. When it came time to join a police academy, he applied to three departments.
Bakersfield was the first to call.
Ever since, Nelson has been “just an outstanding officer” for the BPD, an at-times emotional Chief Greg Williamson told reporters Monday, three days after the two-year veteran was killed while chasing a suspect in east Bakersfield.
Williamson described Nelson, 26, as a “phenomenal athlete” who was known as a gym rat and played Tuesday basketball with his colleagues.
He’d been a patrolman for the last two years and recently applied to be part of the K-9 unit.
“He was well-liked,” Williamson said, his lips sometimes quivering, ”and he did his job right.”
The press conference at police headquarters downtown revealed little new information about the job Nelson was doing early last Friday when the pursuit ended in him crashing into a block wall.
Williamson and Sgt. Joe Grubbs, the department spokesman, repeatedly said a prosecution of suspect Julian Carlos Hernandez, 32 of Bakersfield, lies ahead and they don’t want to reveal information that could jeopardize it.
Hernandez is scheduled to be arraigned 3 p.m. Tuesday in Kern County Superior Court. He was detained without incident mid-day Saturday at a residence in the 2600 block of Sunny Lane in east Bakersfield and arrested at BPD headquarters at about 11:30 p.m.
On Monday he was being held at Lerdo Jail’s maximum-medium facility on $610,000 bail. Police arrested him on charges including evading an officer resulting in injury or death, hit and run resulting in injury or death, obstructing arrest and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
He could face additional charges.
Hernandez is no stranger to the Kern County judicial system. His many convictions — felonies and misdemeanors — include false imprisonment with violence, resisting arrest, spousal abuse, and being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to court records.
That’s just what he pleaded no contest or guilty to.
The court database has no fewer than 15 total cases listed under Hernandez’s name dating back to 2001, many of which included multiple charges dropped in apparent plea deals. Those dropped charges include another case of obstructing or resisting an officer, stalking, battery, assault and violating a protective order.
He declined to be interviewed from jail Monday.
TIMELINE OF TRAGEDY
Williamson took reporters through the day of and weekend after Nelson’s death, offering a few new details.
At about 2:30 a.m. Friday, Nelson was on patrol when he saw a suspicious-looking silver Hyundai with paper license plates in the area of Flower and Haley streets. It’s not known whether Nelson saw any other violations.
Nelson apparently stopped the vehicle and when he approached, it took off. The officer radioed to dispatchers that he was in a pursuit and that chase — at unknown speeds — ended at Panorama Drive and Mount Vernon Avenue, where Nelson crashed into a block wall.
Officers pulled Nelson from the vehicle and he was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he died at about 3:05 a.m.
Williamson said he learned of Nelson’s major injuries at 2:45 a.m. and of his passing 25 minutes later. Normally he would have notified the officer’s father, Larry Nelson of Burbank, in person but was concerned the media would get to him first, he said. So Williamson asked the Burbank Police Department to send someone.
“I wish I could have been there,” Williamson said.
The chief talked to Nelson’s father by phone and then got to work with his force on the incident investigation, tending to Nelson’s colleagues and preparing for the fallen officer’s services. He estimated about 100 employees had a role; about 30 investigators worked the crash scene.
Clergy and a police psychologist were also called in. The California Highway Patrol took over the crash investigation.
On Friday afternoon, Nelson’s body was transferred to Burbank. It’s been guarded by an honor guard ever since, Williamson said.
Williamson later met with Nelson’s father, mother and brother in Bakersfield, swapping stories for some two hours, he said. The family visited the accident scene.
Family members and Nelson’s close BPD colleagues aren’t ready to talk to the media, Grubbs said. Williamson spoke for them Monday.
“Officer Nelson, while young enough to be my son, left me as a brother,” the chief said.
Several times he thanked the public, both local and statewide, for their “flood” of condolences.
“We appreciate all the support,” Williamson said.
A local memorial service for Nelson will be held 3 p.m. July 7 at the Rabobank Theater.
Williamson said he learned mid-day Saturday that a suspect in the fatal chase was in custody and officers were “very confident” they had their man.
Grubbs said after getting a tip, investigators knocked on the door of the Sunny Lane residence and encountered a cooperative Hernandez. Without resisting, Grubbs said, Hernandez consented to an interview at the police department.
Grubbs wouldn’t reveal what Hernandez had to say, or even how long the interview lasted. He said one other person was detained but not arrested.
It was revealed over the weekend that a shotgun was found at the scene of the crash. Grubbs had no additional information about that to share, though he did say there was no indication the shotgun had just been fired.
A lot of questions Grubbs — and others — just couldn’t answer.
“The only person who knows for sure is no longer with us,” he somberly said.