More than 800 officers gathered in Fairfield to honor a man described as having a deep love for growing things and who gave his life trying to save others.
Representatives of law enforcement agencies throughout the San Francisco Bay Area congregated at the Holy Spirit Church for services for Fairfield resident and Oakland police officer John Grubensky.
Grubensky, 32, died Oct. 20, 1991, trying to save five Oakland hills residents from the fire storm that swept through the area. All died in their efforts to find safety.
“I was not surprised,” said Oakland police officer Wendy Rae after the service when describing her former partner’s actions. “It was something he would do. He would help anyone. He took care of me and he took care of his family.”
More than 200 officers filled half the pews inside the church while friends and family filled the rest. Outside, officers from Los Banos to Mendocino County stood in ranks more than 50 across and 10 deep.
Respectful silence outside the church was punctuated only by the sigh of the breeze-blown trees and the crackled commands from patrol car scanners. More than 100 police motorcycles filled the street outside. Overhead, helicopters flew by in a “missing man” formation.
Oakland police Capt. Steven Jensen said this was the second time Holy Spirit Church has held services for an Oakland police officer killed in the line-of-duty.
Grubensky, a father of three, was described as a man with “a disarming sense of humor,” a love of nature, a passion for gardening, diving and the outdoors, and a great devotion to his family.
Grubensky took no unnecessary risks in his dangerous profession, but was willing to put his life on the line to save others, fellow officers said.
“He had an extremely level-headed courage,” Jensen said. “He did not shrink from danger.”
Another officer, who attended the Oakland police academy with Grubensky, described him as a careful man.
“He weighed this out,” the officer said. “There was a chance to die, but he thought ‘I am their last hope.’ It was only a freak accident that he’s not here today.”
Grubensky risked his life during the Oct. 17, 1989, earthquake that collapsed the Cypress overpass. He crawled through the freeway’s unstable rubble looking for victims pinned in their cars.
Grubensky volunteered for duty on Oct. 20, 1991 to pull an extra shift so he could pay for some projects he planned around the house, Jensen said during his eulogy.
The Oakland officer’s patrol car was trapped in the 6800 block of Charing Cross Road when several cars tumbled onto the roadway from a canyon road above, officers said.
“The charred hills will be green again,” Jensen said. “The animals will return. The houses will be rebuilt. The families will return. And among the families will be those who know they owe their lives to Officer John Grubensky.”
As each officer finished sharing their memories of the widely respected officer, they walked to widow Linda Grubensky, giving her a hug or a kiss and leaving a red rose in her lap.