Deputy Sheriff Eric Andrew Thach died in the line of duty Oct. 8, while responding to an open door at a home whose owners were out of town. Thach, who was wearing a protective vest, was shot in the back with a large caliber rifle.
A neighbor, Angelica Loera, had called the sheriff’s office after receiving a phone call from the homeowners who had become concerned at not being able to reach a relative who was taking care of their house while they were away.
While Loera was talking to Deputy Thach, who had been dispatched to the scene, two relatives of the homeowners drove up to the house. A few minutes later gunshots were heard coming from the house. Deputy Thach was shot in the back while standing on the car port.
Thach was able to radio for help. Deputies from the Sheriff’s Department, along with officers from the Riverside Police Department and the California Highway Patrol, quickly responded. Thach was transported to the hospital where he died two hours later while in surgery.
The house sitter, who had been beaten and tied up during the home-invasion robbery, was removed from the house and taken to a hospital where she was placed in the intensive-care unit under sheriff’s guard.
A perimeter was set up in the area in an attempt to catch the suspect. More than 100 deputies and officers from neighboring law enforcement agencies helped in the search. The suspect was killed after officers responded to a fire that broke out in a river bottom within the search area.
The suspect was observed in the area carrying a rifle. Authorities later identified him as the 17-year-old grandson of the house sitter.
Thach, 34, is the 14th Riverside County sheriff’s deputy to die in the line of duty in the department’s more than 100-year history, and the third deputy to be ambushed and killed in less than three years.
He had been employed with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department since September 1996. He was assigned to the Southwest Detention Center until January of this year, when he was transferred to the Jurupa Valley Station Patrol Division. He had patrolled the area where he was ambushed since May.
Sgt. Gil Cervantes, who supervised Thach at the detention center, described him as soft-spoken and well liked. “He was not cocky at all,” Cervantes said. “He was very respectful to those he worked with and even the inmates. He got along well with the other deputies. He was not one to bring a lot of attention to himself.”
American flags lined Thach’s neighbors’ lawns in tribute to the slain deputy. They described Thach as a man with a big heart, who always went out of his way to assist others. He cut a neighbor’s lawn for two weeks when the man’s lawnmower broke. “You don’t want to make him sound like a saint, but he pretty much was,” said neighbor Cary Ehrich. “It’s sad when the best have to go.”
“We appreciate the service the sheriff’s office has provided the county,” said another neighbor Nancy Reyka. “Our hearts are broken. We feel it is our loss, too.”
Services for Deputy Thach were held on Oct. 13 in Riverside. More than 2,000 filled the Harvest Christian Fellowship Church to pay their last respects to Thach, who was described as a man filled with courage, compassion and hope.
Children stood by with hand-made signs depicting the loss, while the honor guard removed Thach’s flag-draped coffin from the hearse. Inside the church, a picture of the deputy was projected onto overhead screens as Sheriff Larry Smith addressed the mourners.
“Every time an officer puts on a badge, they pray to be held in the safety of the Lord’s hands . . . but when they are called, the peace officer always responds,” said Sheriff Smith during the 90-minute ceremony. Thach’s life, while short, was filled with courage, enthusiasm, and hope; traits he carried with him until the end. Eric did make a difference. Eric’s life was meaningful,” Smith said.
Smith told mourners that Thach’s name would be engraved in stone on Memorials in Riverside, Sacramento and in Washington, D.C. Smith ended his eulogy by saying, “As the sadness of this day fades and time passes, someone, someday, might ask: ‘Who was Deputy Eric Thach?’ And we will answer . . . he was a brave and courageous man, taken from us far too soon . . . he was a good cop . . . he was one of us.”
Thach’s wife, Evelyn, and 13-year-old daughter, Shana, stood by the coffin and said a long final goodbye before leaving the church.
Following the service, more than 200 motorcycle officers from across California escorted Thach’s coffin to Crestlawn Memorial Park in Riverside. Officers performed a 21-gun salute after bagpipes played “Amazing Grace.” Thach’s widow was then presented with the flag that draped her husband’s coffin.
A trust fund has been established. Donations can be made through the Riverside Sheriff’s Association Relief Fund/Deputy Thach, 6215 River Crest Drive #A, Riverside, CA 92507.