Freeway dedicated to slain CHP officer
For California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joe Farrow, it’s only fitting that slain CHP officer Scott Russell be memorialized in the county he served — “God’s country,” as Farrow called it.
“I know now today (Russell) stands tall with all the angels in Heaven,” he told the hundreds who gathered Monday for the officer’s freeway dedication.
“Scott was a good man. He is a man we will remember.”
Farrow was just one of the many state and local luminaries who attended the Officer Douglas “Scott” Russell Memorial Freeway Dedication at Placerville’s Green Valley Community Church.
Russell, 46, was killed by David Charles Zanon, 41, on July 31, 2007, during a high speed chase down eastbound Highway 50. Russell had deployed a spike strip and positioned himself in the center median near the Ponderosa Road overpass moments before he was hit by Zanon’s vehicle.
To honor the officer’s sacrifice, a stretch of Highway 50 near Ponderosa Road has been renamed the CHP Officer Douglas “Scott” Russell Memorial Freeway.
Officers and firefighters in full dress uniform flocked to the church to witness the ceremony, which was hosted by the Placerville area CHP.
As two massive projection screens flashed pictures of the officer’s life, Lt. Chuck King, the Placerville area CHP commander, welcomed the audience. Lynn Russell, the officer’s widow, and Betty Elliott, the officer’s mother, were escorted down the center aisle and into their seats.
Church Pastor Scott Sinner, during his invocation, called the event a day of closure and prayed that Russell be remembered as someone who served his community.
Two of Russell’s friends took the stage and shared memories of the fallen officer. The first speaker, CHP officer Joe Wolf, first met Russell at the CHP academy. Russell served as the best man in Wolf’s wedding.
Unlike the other CHP officers, Wolf did not wear the traditional green dress jacket because, according to Wolf, Russell found it ugly.
“It’s not out of disrespect, it’s out of respect for him,” an emotional Wolf said.
Wolf called Russell as a close friend and recounted a humorous trip they took to Mexico, during which they were stopped by federales. Wolf said Russell promised to send the officers a CHP uniform when he returned to the states and lived up to his word.
The next speaker, Jon Hamm, talked about Russell’s professionalism and commitment to his job.
“Scott, he had really a respect for the job and had such a desire to be the best,” said Hamm. “Scott was just a good man.”
Lt. King retook the stage and played a video of Russell’s memorial, which was constructed at the Placerville CHP office.
The center of the memorial features a 4-ton granite rock surrounded by a planter box. On the rock is a plaque commemorating the Russell’s life.
To the boulder’s left sits a 6-foot granite bench. On the bench, a portion of the CHP Code of Honor has been engraved: “… and, if necessary, lay down my life, rather than swerve from the path of duty.”
The memorial was unveiled Sunday to a gathering of Russell’s friends, family and colleagues.
“We wanted to build something that fit in in the Placerville area,” said King.
Doug Yoakam, a legislative director representing the late Sen. Dave Cox, presented framed Senate resolutions to Russell’s widow and mother and thanked them for their sacrifice.
The two were also presented with shadow boxes containing memorial coins, a CHP patch, a miniature replica of the freeway sign.
Commissioner Farrow then spoke and thanked the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office for its prosecution of Russell’s killer. Farrow also praised the Placervile CHP unit for continuing to fulfill its duties despite the loss to its family.
Lynn Russell, accompanied by family friend and CHP officer Tom Flahavan, thanked the audience for their support.
Lynn said her husband was a hero to many because of they way he did his job, “But for me, he was the ultimate hero because of the way he lived his life.”
“I am truly blessed to have known him and been loved by him.”
Lynn received a standing ovation as she left the stage.
After the ceremony, CHP officer Dan Stark said he was grateful for the “overwhelming” community support the CHP has received since Russell’s death.
“It’s the ending of a chapter that’s been going on for the last three years,” he said. “But this is one of those things you never get over.”
Lynn Russell, surrounded by family and friends, felt the ceremony was perfect.
“I feel Scott was truly honored today,” she said. “They definitely went above and beyond (with the dedication). It couldn’t have been any better.”
Betty Elliott, Russell’s mother, called the event “awesome.” Elliott said her son usually shunned the spotlight and was glad he received a fitting tribute for his sacrifice.
“I can’t explain it,” she said. “There’s overwhelming pride and deep sadness at the same time.”
David Zanon was found guilty of the officer’s first-degree murder in August. A month later, an El Dorado County jury recommended that Zanon get the death penalty.
Several members of the jury attended Monday’s ceremony.
Russell, a 22-year CHP veteran, had planned on retiring this year. Zanon’s death penalty verdict came days before what would have been the officer’s 50th birthday. Zanon is scheduled to be sentenced in December.
E-mail Jim Ratajczak at [email protected] or call 530-344-5071.
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