Officer David John Chetcuti was laid to rest Friday, May 1, in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma following a military-style funeral attended by family, friends and thousands of fellow officers.
Approximately 3,000 uniformed officers, representing police and sheriff’s departments, FBI agents, BART police, mounted units and K-9 officers, some from as far away as New York, stood under a gray sky and steady rain for almost three hours to pay their respects to Officer Chetcuti.
Chetcuti was gunned down Saturday, April 25, 1998, on Highway 101 just south of the San Francisco International Airport when he went to the aide of San Bruno officer, Seann Graham. Graham had stopped 43-year-old Marvin Patrick Sullivan because his car registration had expired.
As Graham approached the driver of the Chevrolet sedan, Sullivan got out of the car and shot at him several times with a rifle, police said. Graham dived through some bushes into a drainage ditch and swam through a marshy area on the side of the highway as he called for backup.
When Chetcuti confronted the driver and ordered him to put the rifle down, Sullivan shot him in the chest and face and took his gun, police said. He then went to the fallen Chetcuti and shot him in the head. Chetcuti had managed to return fire and slightly wounded Sullivan. Several rounds pierced Chetcuti’s bullet-proof vest, police reported.
Sullivan surrendered to police without incident near the San Mateo Bridge toll plaza. A bomb squad was called to handle pipe bombs found in Sullivan’s vehicle. He has been charged with Chetcuti’s murder and the attempted murder of Graham. Authorities reported that Sullivan has a long criminal history involving guns, drugs and violence.
San Francisco and Bay Area law enforcement agencies broadcast a message to officers, as Chetcuti’s funeral took place, to observe 43 seconds of silence – “one second for each year of Officer Chetcuti’s life – for making the ultimate sacrifice to save a fellow officer’s life.
Chetcuti, a popular 11-year veteran of Millbrae Police Department, was the first line-of- duty death in that agency and the first in San Mateo County in a decade.
Chief Michael Parker told reporters “Dave Chetcuti was well liked and had a special rapport with teenagers. This is a very sad time for the Millbrae Police Department. We are a small department with only 27 officers so we’re very much like a family. It’s going to be bad for Dave’s family and for us for a very long time.”
Chief Parker added “This is a sad day for us. This is the first time an officer has been shot in the line of duty. Dave was a model police officer. He was instrumental in catching a bank robber from Burlingame just last week. He just had a nose for police work.”
Chetcuti, who lived in Millbrae, served on the Millbrae police force since his appointment on December 16, 1987. He had served as a motorcycle, patrol and field training officer and was often praised for his work. Chief Parker said Chetcuti’s commendation file was filled with letters of appreciation from citizens and local politicians, and no one had ever complained about him. He had received the department’s lifesaving award for saving a heart attack victim in 1995. He was president of the Millbrae Police Officers Association.
Officer Richard Dixon, who trained Chetcuti when he joined the Millbrae Police Department 11 years ago, said, “He was the most well-liked officer in the department, and in the community.”
Dixon added “He went on to being a better Field Training Officer than I.” Chetcuti was described by friends and fellow officers as a remarkable community man, dedicated to his job, his family and his neighbors.
A high school buddy, John Aquilina, stated that Chetcuti spent the last morning of his life watching the local kids playing baseball. “He was that kind of cop, that kind of guy. Give him an hour, and he’d give you 10. He’d mow people’s lawns, he’d help paint a house or put up wallboard.”
Chetcuti’s last act was in keeping with how he lived: He was gunned down moments after leaving the ballpark as he answered a call for back-up. Julie Lipke, wiping back tears, described her uncle and godfather “He was the biggest success in the Chetcuti family. He didn’t just serve the community, he was part of the community. He loved this town.”
Rev. John Greene, San Francisco Fire Department chaplain, said in his homily at the St. Dunstan Church service, “He was the heart and soul of the Millbrae Police Department . . . He touched the lives of many people who didn’t know him.”
Chief Parker said of the service “I am so moved by the turnout that I see here today. “I’m really proud of the people of Millbrae . . . It makes me proud to serve this community . . . Today, Millbrae is showing its love for David Chetcuti.”
A friend of Chetcuti’s, Reno Camilleri, who had known him since childhood and immigrated from the same hometown, Mosta, Malta, as Chetcuti’s family told everyone “He was really a great guy. For the community, he was the perfect police officer. He really cared about the kids. He didn’t just want to arrest them or get them in trouble. He wanted to help them. He knew them all. I think the kids were his favorite part of the job.”
Family members say Chetcuti always wanted to be a police officer, was living his dream, and passing that ambition on to the kids of Millbrae. His son, David, an explorer scout with the Millbrae department, wants to become a cop like his dad. David helped seven officers carry his father’s coffin from the church to a hearse outside for the trip to the cemetery.
San Francisco Archbishop William Levada, who conducted the service, described Chetcuti as a devoted husband, father, police officer and friend to many. “Gail encouraged him to become a police officer and she has no regrets he chose the occupation. He came to law enforcement late in life, but he found the passion of his life.”
Chetcuti’s youngest son, Ricky, wrote in his eulogy for his dad’s service “Every time I play basketball or fix a model, I’ll always think of you. You’ll always be my hero.”
Rev. Greene, in his homily, said “He worked hard for his family. He found the job of his dreams. (Gail) supported him . . . She has no regrets about his choice of career.”
Chetcuti is survived by his wife, Gail, and sons 17-year-old David, 14-year-old John, and 11-year-old Rick.
A trust fund has been established for Chetcuti’s sons. Please forward checks to Account No. 06-616-879, First National Bank of Millbrae, 1551 El Camino Real, Millbrae 94040.
What I would have told you my friend …
You are in inspiration to us all
in very part of your life
You are the epitome of a Police Officer
Your are compassionate and caring
You are bright,articulate, and you do
what it takes to get the job done
You are always willing to go the extra mile
to help someone in need
You are tough when you need to be
You are courageous and you do not back down
when you know you are right
Your dedication to duty, our community, and
the law enforcement profession is unparalleled
This world is a better place because of what you do
You are devoted to your family
The sparkle in your eye shows your love for Gail
It is a love that has survived the trials of your profession
and blossomed into something more
Dave, John and Ricky have learned well from you
They have your spirit, your drive, your integrity,
and your sense of caring for others
They will each make a contribution
and it will make a difference
You are a loyal friend to many
To you this means commitment, sharing,
generosity, and honesty
You bring out the best in people
You make people laugh and you
make things brighter even when times are hard
You are never too busy to lend a hand
People depend on you and you
are always there for them
I have cried and I will cry again
I miss you my friend
And I will not forget
You are part of my soul and together we will endure
Goodbye my friend. Godspeed.
The following is from our Guestbook
On the day
He was laid to rest,
The Tears of angels
Fell upon the Earth
Onto the soil
Of his eternal rest
May we find comfort
Knowing that he is safe
In God’s embrace.
For God has taken home
May the sorrow and pain
That has torn
Through the hearts and lives of
Be one day comforted
As he is remembered,
A loving husband and devoted father
Who lived to serve and protect
Those who knew him
And those who did not.
May the anger and hatred
That seeds its way
Into our hearts
Questioning our faith
Leaving us numb,
Though the sky has faded
To a lighter shade of blue
And the sun has paled,
We shall find
The star that shines brighter
In the night sky
In memory of Dave Checuti-
Millbrae Police Department
April 25, 1998