On Thursday January 29, 2009, at approximately 2000 hours, Tulare County Deputy Sheriff Sergeant Greg Hernandez was involved in a collision with a big rig near the town of Orosi while responding to backup a fellow deputy.
Shortly before the crash, a deputy had called for backup in the area of Lawrence Avenue and Road 57 after encountering four people about to fight. Sgt. Hernandez was responding Code 3 when the collision occurred. The driver of the big rig was southbound on Road 120 when he stopped at Road 400 for a 4-way stop then proceeded through the intersection. Hernandez entered the intersection, colliding with the big rig.
Hernandez was flown by helicopter to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno in critical condition. He remained in a coma and on life support until he succumbed to his injuries on Friday, February 6, 2009.
Sgt. Hernandez, age 50, leaves behind his 14-year old daughter Kristina, his mother Rosa, two brothers and four sisters.
The afternoon of February 13, Sgt. Hernandez was honored and memorialized at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Visalia. Over 1500 people packed the church to pay tribute to a devoted son and father, a friend and co-worker with a big heart and penchant for practical jokes – a natural leader who died doing the job he loved.
“We’re just all so sad here today as we gather to honor one of our own,” Tulare County Sheriff Bill Wittman said in his eulogy of Hernandez. Wittman said the day marked an important period of grieving for one of the department’s most beloved and irreplaceable members.
Throughout his 24-year career Hernandez worked almost every division of the department, including patrol, narcotics, and as hostage negotiator. He was remembered as the ideal supervisor and mentor – strict, and leading by example. But he was also known as a jokester who would crank call deputies who were filling out paperwork on the final minutes of their watch. “He’d do it five or six times before you could hear him laughing in the background,” Deputy Gabe Galvy said. “Basically he was a big clown.”
However, it was his calm demeanor that made him a first class hostage negotiator who trained law enforcement throughout California, recalled Sheriff Wittman. In January 2006, Hernandez talked down a suspect in an Exeter bank robbery and subsequent 10-hour police standoff. The suspect released seven hostages and surrendered. His work that night “was just magic,” Wittman said. “I absolutely saw a work of magic.”
With grace and courage beyond her 14 years, Kristina Hernandez addressed the capacity crowd to talk about her dad. She said in her eulogy that her father was as devoted to his colleagues as he was to his loved ones. “He said that law enforcement was just another family that God had given him. Not having him here is something I never imagined…His love is just like the wind – you can’t see it, but you can feel it.”
Her closing remarks brought welcome laughter from the audience. “He was a hero, a protector, and for sure a stud. As we say goodbye to him today, 402 is going home.”