For the second time in three weeks, officers from the Indio station of the California Highway Patrol buried one of their own. More than 1,000 mourners, including the family of officer Saul Martinez, who died May 15 after being struck by a car near Desert Hot Springs, filled St. Catherine’s Catholic Church to honor the memory of officer Daniel James Muehlhausen.
Muehlhausen, 30, was killed Sunday, June 1, in a head-on collision when a pickup truck driven by an Oceanside man crossed the double-yellow line on a narrow stretch of Highway 62 north of Desert Center.
Muehlhausen died about 11 a.m. as he was responding to assist a motorist whose car had become disabled. According to the CA Highway Patrol, a Toyota truck crossed over the double-yellow line and slammed into his cruiser, causing both vehicles to burst into flames. The driver of the pickup, 20-year-old Seth Harris of Oceanside, and his passenger, 17-year-old Larry Kern Jr. of Carlsbad, were also killed.
CHP accident investigators said the truck was one of four vehicles traveling home to the Oceanside area after spending a weekend at a mini-truck show on the California side of Lake Havasu. Investigators are attempting to determine whether the Toyota’s hydraulics and excessive speed contributed to the fire that burned all three bodies beyond recognition.
The CHP’s Indio office closed for the day so all 75 patrol officers, clerks and dispatchers could attend the services. Surrounding stations covered patrols and dispatches. “The entire squad is numb,” said Capt. John J. Benoit, the Indio commander.
Benoit recalled Muehlhausen’s gentle spirit, eagerness and enthusiasm. “Dan was a source of brightness and light,” he said. The commander told the Indio staff members he was proud they have carried on with their duties, despite overwhelming grief and pain from the loss of two coworkers. Many wept when he said, “Dan, say hello to Saul for us.”
Muehlhausen’s colleagues said he was a California Highway Patrol officer who stopped his patrol car to herd dogs away from traffic and always rescued motorists in distress. “He epitomized what the California Highway Patrol was all about,” CHP Commissioner Dwight Helmick said. “When helping someone he was at his happiest.”
“Our hearts are heavy,” Officer Larry Cuslidge said. “The healing process is slow to begin.” Muehlhausen’s casket was carried inside the church by white-gloved CHP officers in dress uniform. Officer Dan Morrison walked in front, carrying the slain officer’s hat. During the morning service, uniformed officers, family members and childhood friends broke into tears as the Rev. Tom Burdick attempted to ease the pain of Muehlhausen’s death.
“Dan was a straight arrow. He was someone who could stand up for what’s right in a world that so often goes wrong,” Burdick said. “He was the kind of man you wanted to introduce your sister to.”
Fellow officers remembered him as a smart, dedicated patrolman who loved helping motorists.
“He always wanted to be a CHP officer and loved assisting people,” said Officer Doug Myers, who roomed with Muehlhausen at the academy. “He used to help me with my homework at the academy, and I used to wonder about how easy it was for him. I’d burn the midnight oil, and he’d be asleep by 8 p.m.” Myers told how he became close friends with Muehlhausen when they trained together. They shared friendly rivalry that continued in Indio, where both began their CHP careers. “What I admired most about Dan was how he treated others,” Myers said with calm and genuine concern.
Muehlhausen, who was single and lived in a mobile home park next door to his parents in Perris, graduated from the CHP Academy in April 1995. Before entering, he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and law-and-society from the University of California, Riverside. He entered the California Highway Patrol Academy in October 1994 and was assigned to the Indio station in April 1995.
“I’m sorry he could not serve longer,” said his father Ernest after the service, as he held his son’s badge. It’s going to take a long time to heal. We think of you every night, son, and miss you so much.”
After the 90-minute church service, Muehlhausen’s family and friends were escorted to Pierce Brothers Crestlawn Memorial Park in Riverside by hundreds of law enforcement cruisers and motorcycles. All along the seven-mile-route, people stood silently on sidewalks, in parking lots and on apartment balconies, watching the motorcade pass. Car mechanics laid down their tools. A cook stood outside a fast-food restaurant. Students lined a sidewalk outside Norte Vista High School.
At the cemetery, 32 U.S. flags encircled the graveside. Bagpiper Jim Gentry played “Amazing Grace” as officers carried the coffin. CHP officers and family members laid carnations, roses and Muehlhausen’s CHP dress hat atop the gray coffin with the CHP insignia.
Commissioner Dwight “Spike” Helmick gave a framed state flag to Muehlhausen’s parents and St. Catherine’s pastor Tom Burdick presented them with a cross from the funeral procession. A CHP rifle team fired a salute as four CHP airplanes and three CHP helicopters flew overhead in a missing man” formation. “It’s going to take time to recover,” said Dan’s brother David, 36. “The support we received from this tragedy has shown me that there are so many good people in this world, even though we tend to think it’s bad – but it’s not. For me, it’s time to take care of my parents because that’s what Dan would want.”
Muehlhausen’s family said that all he’d ever wanted to be was a cop. As an 8-year-old, Muehlhausen pretended to be a motorcycle officer while riding his mini-bike, David Muehlhausen said. “He’s always been interested in law enforcement because he really thought he could make the world a safer place to live,” David stated. “He was the logical one in the family and always was able to make sense of things and reason them out.”
Muehlhausen said his brother prepared to be a law enforcement officer for most of his life – beginning after graduation from Notre Dame High School in Riverside and the University of California, Riverside.
Muehlhausen’s mother Elaine struggled to put the day into words. “We are having a tough time, and I don’t know what else to say,” she said. “I feel in my heart… he was a special son.”