Officer Gerald Silvestri, 37, described himself to his bicycle racing buddies as “the most deceptively fast, short, stocky bald guy” on two wheels, stated long-time friend Officer Mike Madden. Silvestri’s quick wit, along with his fierce loyalty and professionalism, will be missed most by his friends and fellow officers at the San Bernardino Police Department.
He was less than two hours into an overnight shift on Saturday, Oct. 14, when Silvestri heard a call for backup from another officer who had come across a suspected auto thief, possibly armed. He died when he lost control of his patrol car as he responded to the call and crashed into an oak tree. Nearby residents said they believed he swerved to avoid hitting something in the road. Skid marks showed the car’s path over the curb and into the tree.
Anthony Ulibarri, 40, a nearby resident, stated that he was one of three men who tried to pull Silvestri from the patrol car that was leaking gasoline. Silvestri didn’t respond to them, Ulibarri said. He continued, “I knew when we pulled him out that he would die. The car was crushed like a beer can.”
Police Lt. W.D. Smith stated that the incident needn’t have happened because the suspect that Silvestri wanted to help arrest was neither an auto thief nor armed. He said that the story of a stolen car had been embellished by someone as part of a domestic dispute.
Hundreds of officers from throughout California congregated at the Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland Friday, Oct. 20, to remember Silvestri as a fun-loving husband, father, brother and son, and as a serious, dedicated police officer.
Rev. Mike Urrea told the mourners that Silvestri was, “A person who exemplified what is a police officer. He was truly someone who cared.”
Police Chief Lee Dean told the group that “Gerald simply loved being a cop. He also loved sunflower seeds.”
State Attorney General Bill Lockyer also praised Silvestri. “At a time when duty and honor don’t receive the respect they have in previous generations, it’s satisfying and heartening to know there are those who feel a sense of pride the first time they pinned on the badge.”
Madden and Silvestri became friends eight years ago because of a shared passion for cycling. Silvestri rode 100 to 200 miles each week. At the time, Silvestri drove fuel tankers for a living. For fun, he rode along with Madden and others while they were on patrol.
Madden, who eventually recruited Silvestri, included in his eulogy funny and poignant recollections of their shared passion for bicycle racing. Silvestri, who was nicknamed G-money by his bicycling buddies because he was so fast in the sprints at the end of the races, won some medals at this year’s Police Olympics. Madden added that he was sure that Silvestri cheated somehow, as a gentle wave of laughter rippled through the audience.
Madden said that when he gave Silvestri grief about his smooth head, Silvestri explained that he just didn’t understand “the acrodynamic benefits of a shave head.”
Duane Anderson, Silvestri’s uncle, and Rick Silvestri, his brother, both pastors, recalled him as a comedian from the time he was tiny and also as athletic and competitive.
Anderson told the audience, “You want to know what Gerald was like – look at that boy running around,” pointing to Silvestri’s energetic 2-year-old son, Johnathan, who during the service played with a green and black ball.
When the service ended Johnathan knelt with his 5-year-old sister, Kathryn, in front of the large floral arrangement in front of theSilvestri’s casket. He plucked a few red flowers from the bouquet, turned around and handed them to his mother, Annie.
The Hillside Cemetery in Redlands was the location for the moving traditions of a police officer’s funeral – the meticulous folding of the American flag and its presentation to the widow; the plaintive strains of “Amazing Grace” played on a bag pipe; the three-volley crack of the 21-gun salute; and the playing of “Taps.”
Annie Silvestri pointed to the sky and told her daughter as three sheriff’s helicopters side-by-side approached the crowd, “That’s for your dad” as one helicopter peeled away from the group in the missing-man formation.
As the funeral ended, Pastor John Silvestri, with a proud smile, told members of the audience that his son “Was born a hero.”
In addition to his wife, Annie, and children, Johnathan and Kathryn, Silvestri is survived by his parents, John and Anita Silvestri.
Silvestri worked for the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department from May 1994 to January 1997 and joined the San Bernardino Police Department on January 28, 1997.
Donations may be made in Officer Gerald Silvestri’s name to: The Police Memorial Fund or the Officer’s Emergency Fund, San Bernardino POA, P.O. Box 2967, San Bernardino, CA 92406.