Clarence Wayne Dean was not your typical cop. “God put Wayne in our lives as a gift,” said police chaplain Sgt. Ron Moen, “to bring laughter to a hurting world.”
More than 1,000 persons came to Rose Hills Cemetery in Whittier to remember the veteran Los Angeles Police Department motorcycle officer. Dean plunged to his death off a broken elevated section of the Antelope Valley Freeway minutes after sections of the freeway collapsed in the January 17, 1994 earthquake.
The graveside ceremony included traditional honors for an officer fallen in the line of duty: an honor guard salute, a riderless horse a helicopter flyby. But at the request of his family, to honor Dean’s individuality, taste for adventure and sense of humor, the service ended on an unconventional note.
As Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, LAPD Chief Willie L. Williams and other dignitaries looked on, loudspeakers blasted out Dean’s favorite song, Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild.”
“Get your motor running/ Head out on the highway/ Looking for adventure/ In whatever comes our way.” The song’s opening words personified Dean his friends said: a man looking for adventure.
Dean, 46, had left his Lancaster home and was on the freeway headed for work within minutes of the powerful 4:31 a.m. quake, even though his shift did not start for more than two hours. “I can only assume that he was hurrying on in because of the earthquake,” said Lt. Bob Normandy.
Dean was killed when he rounded a bend on the transition road from the Antelope Valley Freeway to the southbound Golden State Freeway. A section of the elevated road had collapsed in the quake, and Dean could not stop before plunging 30 feet off the severed roadway.
The gregarious Dean was remembered at the service as a man with a ready smile, a taste for practical jokes, and a ready stock of stories. “He was a great guy, one of those guys that everybody seems to know,” said Officer Jim Johnson.
Dean joined the Los Angeles force in 1968 after four years in the Marines, leaving the military with the rank of sergeant. He had been a motorcycle officer for ten years. In November 1993 he hurt his back and took a desk job. After the holidays, he returned to work healthy enough to go back on the street. He had been back only several days when he headed for work early the day of the quake.
“He could have come up with a million excuses why he couldn’t go to work that day,” said Officer Bill Harkness, Dean’s colleague in the LAPD’s Valley Traffic Division and a friend for 27 years. “But he got up, put on his uniform and went in. I consider Clarence Wayne Dean a hero,” Harkness continued. “No, he’s not a textbook hero. He was an everyday hero, the guy who made you feel good, who knew his obligation to his city.”
Dean is survived by his son Guy, daughter Traci Skaggs, mother Ruth, sisters Cindy Ramey and Debbie Barton, and brother Jimmy.