California Highway Patrol Officer John Pedro was doing the job he loved to do on Monday, June 3, when his patrol car went out of control, ran off the road and struck a tree. He was killed instantly.
Witnesses told CHP investigators that Pedro, 36, was heading northbound and had just turned on his emergency lights, indicating that he was probably about to stop a motorist. The tires on his unit drifted off the Highway 1 off-ramp to Highway 129 and onto the ramp’s north shoulder where it slid back across the roadway leaving long black skid marks, as it turned sideways. The car hit an embankment on the right side of the ramp and flipped several times before it slammed into a large tree.
Co-workers regarded the crash as a freak accident that happened in an area that Pedro loved and knew by heart, in the town where he grew up.
Highway Patrol chaplain Jim Howarth told mourners at funeral services held at the Twin Lakes Church in Aptos June 6, that Pedro deserved the highest honor. He stated, “We are quick to honor great actors, great athletes that come out of a community, but are we ready to recognize those who gave their all?”
State CHP Commissioner D.O. “Spike” Helmick, who swore Pedro onto the force in 1989, stood at the microphone with his hat in his hands, faced the family and said, “I wished there was something we could say that could make you hurt less today.”
He continued by saying that Pedro was one of those who could go home each day and know he prevented tragedies from happening. “What a remarkable thing to say about a man.”
Pedro was described by speakers as a man who worked hard because he loved his job. He didn’t have any other burning ambition.
Capt. Chris Jenkins, commander for the area CHP, told the audience, “He didn’t ask for reward or riches. He just wanted to serve.”
“He enjoyed patrolling the highways and catching speeders and drunken drivers. But his real love was commercial truck enforcement,” stated friend and retired CHP Officer Joe Bowes.
Pedro got his dream job when he was assigned to the Mobile Road Enforcement units of the CHP’s coastal division. He later went to work in the truck inspection facility in Gilroy. Earlier this year he requested a transfer to the Aptos office to be closer to his wife and young daughter.
Bowes also told the group that Pedro loved intense discussions on the fine points of law enforcement. He said that they once debated on whether CHP officers could arrest someone for driving under the influence on private property.
Pedro took the position that they can make such arrests, and gave Bowes a big stack of papers, with highlighted passages, to support his point. According to the local CHP, Pedro was absolutely correct.
Bowes stated that Pedro had a thirst for knowledge, liked keeping his fellow officers up to speed on law enforcement issues, and most of all, loved helping people.
“There is an awful lot we do that does not involve tickets,” Bowes said. “He was always willing to help people. If he found someone broken down on the road, he would go get gas, replace a windshield-wiper blade, or give them a ride to a phone. He was more than happy to do it.”
Pedro, who was a 13-year CHP veteran, is the first Santa Cruz County-based CHP officer to have died in the line of duty in 68 years.
Born in Watsonville, Pedro graduated from Watsonville High School in 1983, and later received a degree in music from Cabrillo College and attended San Jose State University with a major of anthropology and a minor in music.
He loved horns and played in a band in the early 1990s while a reserve in the Air Force, which presented him with a posthumous meritorious service medal. At the funeral, the audience listened to the sounds of a live five-piece brass band, playing the kind of music Pedro loved. He also was a substitute musician with the San Jose Symphony occasionally.
His wife of nine years, Colleen Gilmartin, a CHP officer for the same district, and two-year old daughter, Sara Jessica, survive Pedro.
A memorial fund has been set up for Pedro’s family. Those who wish to donate may send it to: John Pedro Memorial Fund (account number 1891453746) at Comerica Bank, 30 Rancho del Mar Shopping Center, Aptos, CA 95003.