OFFICER TERRY W. BENNETT
BADGE 1831, ID 4761
SDPD 09/06/1990 - 06/26/2003
FROM THE SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE JULY 3, 2003
In silent tribute to a fallen colleague, hundreds of uniformed officers stood at attention on a grassy hillside yesterday as the casket of San Diego police Officer Terry William Bennett was carried to his grave.
The ceremony at El Camino Memorial Park included a rifle salute by seven California Highway Patrol officers and a flyover of five helicopters in a missing-man formation.
The ceremony ended with Bennett's widow and two sons being handed a folded U.S. flag that had covered the casket. It concluded an emotional day that began when at least 2,500 people gathered to celebrate Bennett's life at College Avenue Baptist Church. The 38-year-old motorcycle officer was killed last Thursday when he was run down by a man driving a stolen truck in Encanto.
The Rev. Robert W. Mentze, pastor at Lakeside Community Presbyterian Church, where the Bennetts worship, said Terry Bennett was a victim of the violence he was trying to prevent. "There aren't any easy answers," he said.
Bennett was on the force almost 13 years, and lived with his wife, Michelle, and sons, Brennan, 8, and Connor, 4, in Lakeside. He was the second San Diego motor traffic officer - and third law enforcement officer in the county - killed in the past 10 weeks.
Interim San Diego police Chief John Welter eulogized Bennett as someone who displayed compassion - even for lawbreakers - and was easygoing with quiet patience and a tippy-toe bounce in his walk. "We are all still too hurt, too shocked at the manner (in) which Terry was taken from us," Welter said. Welter cited Bennett's prowess on a motorcycle, saying he was one of the best on two wheels.
Welter addressed some of his remarks to Bennett's sons, sitting in a front row with their mother and other family members. The boys had expressed a desire to have their father buried nearby so they could visit the grave.
Connor suggested the back yard, near a tree where they buried the family cat, Welter said.
Bennett's friends and colleagues remembered him as a traffic cop who would just as soon write a warning as a citation. His supervisor, Sgt. Perry Grossmann, recalled one time when Bennett stopped a burly construction worker for speeding. When Bennett asked the man why he was speeding, he said he was in a hurry to get to band practice. Bennett, who played in the El Capitan High School band, wanted proof. He asked the motorist to play his flute by the roadway, Grossmann said. After a brief performance, the man got away with a warning.
Bennett also enjoyed giving safety talks at schools. On display inside the church was a montage of thank-you notes he received from kids. One boy from Northmont Elementary School in La Mesa thanked him for the safety lessons and then warned the officer to be careful. "Watch out wherever you are going. If you don't watch out, you might get hurt or break a bone from your body," he wrote.
At the church service, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer voiced anger and frustration over the loss of yet another police officer. Lockyer noted that just 12 days ago he was in Oceanside for the funeral of Oceanside Officer Tony Zeppetella, who authorities say was shot by a gang member. On April 15, San Diego traffic Officer Gerald K. Griffin was fatally injured after being struck by a speeding motorist in Pacific Beach. He died 10 days later. "Terry gave up his tomorrows so we would have safer todays," Lockyer said. "He was doing what he loved to do - to serve and protect the people."
Hundreds of officers from around the state attended the service.
After the 90-minute service, a motorcade made the 21-mile drive to the cemetery in Sorrento Valley, disrupting traffic on area freeways. It took many of the vehicles an hour to make the trip, according to the CHP. As the procession left the church, several residents stood along College Avenue to watch. Holding a straw hat against his chest, Philip Schey waved a large U.S. flag over his head. Schey, a retiree who lives in the area, said he felt compelled to display the flag and pay his respects. Some officers turned on their sirens when they passed by him. "I just felt so bad about what happened," he said quietly. "Two young children - it just seems so tragic."
On a street corner near the church, one man held a handwritten sign on a piece of cardboard that said"God Bless U." He waved it at every vehicle. "I figured I can make a sign and let them know someone in the community does care. A lot of people do," nursing assistant Reggie Turner said.
At the burial, one of Bennett's cousins, Courtney Shaplin, 16, said she'll miss the man who was like a second father to her. Always encouraging her about schoolwork, Bennett promised her a gift of $100 if she graduated from high school with a 3.5 GPA. She just finished her sophomore year. "Things like this aren't supposed to happen in real life," Courtney said. "They're only supposed to happen in the movies."
During the church service, Bennett's partner, motorcycle Officer Dave Root, thanked the Encanto community for helping with the investigation and for trying to aid Bennett after he was struck. Root said he and Bennett used to ride part of the way home together after their shifts ended. "The ride home is real lonely now," he said.