With tears, laughter and heartfelt stories, local law enforcement officers bid farewell Tuesday to Bakersfield Police Officer David Nelson.
Nelson, 26, a two-year patrolman who graduated second in his academy class, was fatally injured June 26 in a single-vehicle crash during a pre-dawn pursuit.
His peers from the Bakersfield police and fire departments, City Hall, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and other local agencies nearly filled Rabobank Theater in a show of support that included a Bakersfield Police Department honor guard salute while “Taps” played and three police vehicles flashed their lights on stage.
Nearly everyone there had some connection to law enforcement.
Bakersfield resident Chuck Poteete said he and wife Jeanette came because their grandson is an employee of the Bakersfield Police Department.
“They took it very hard,” Jeanette Poteete said of reaction by her grandson and his wife to Nelson’s death.
Nelson’s family, including two brothers and his parents, attended the hour-long ceremony and were presented with Nelson’s badge in a shadow box.
In lighter moments, speakers examined the Occidental College athlete’s sense of humor — and his ticklishness.
BPD Sgt. Charles Sherman, who met Nelson when the Burbank native first joined the academy, thanked Nelson’s parents for teaching their son lessons he then imparted to Sherman.
Then, in a departure from that poignant moment, Sherman revealed the officer’s nickname, Giggles, and explained how he earned it.
During training, the recruit just couldn’t stop laughing, Sherman said. Not while practicing searches, not while being Tasered — not even when classmates tickled him en masse to “cure him.”
“I honestly think I’ll never be a single-man unit again. Whenever I get in the car, I think he’ll be right there near my heart,” Sherman said.
Assistant Police Chief Lyle Martin said Nelson’s kind heart always showed.
On one occasion, after finding Martin lying on the weight room floor after a tough work-out, dizzy and reporting spots before his eyes, Nelson revealed with a smile that he knew Martin and Capt. Joe Bianco had been fibbing to each other about how much they were lifting.
But first, Martin said, Nelson asked the assistant chief if he was OK.
A quote from the film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” hung in retired BPD Capt. Tim Taylor’s office for years, Martin said: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
“The great David Nelson understood this, because he tried to have a positive effect on everything he touched,” Martin said.
BPD Chief Greg Williamson said Nelson’s radio call-sign, 1 Hill 1 — signifying he always worked nights, 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., and was assigned to the hilly part of east Bakersfield — will be retired.
Working from the evening into the early morning was Nelson’s preference, the chief said, because he valued “searching for those who take advantage of the night.”
Julian Carlos Hernandez, 32, was arrested June 27 in Bakersfield and is being held on $600,000 bail in connection with the crash that killed Nelson.
He pleaded not guilty June 30 in Kern County Superior Court to five felonies including vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.
In an interview afterward, Williamson said BPD officers have authority to begin pursuits and end them if members of the public are in danger or speeds get too high — and Nelson had broken off pursuits in the past.
But the chief said there was no indication members of the public were in danger during this late-night pursuit, or that its speed had reached a dangerous level.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood emphasized he wasn’t commenting directly on Nelson’s death, but said the intersection where the wreck occurred can be tricky for drivers who, like Nelson, approach Mt. Vernon Avenue traveling east on Panorama Drive.
“Where it approaches Mt. Vernon, there’s a slight right angle before you can see the lights,” Youngblood said, calling it “a sneaky intersection.”