More than 1,000 law enforcement officers from around the state paid tribute to the first San Diego County sheriff’s deputy to die in the line of duty in this century.
Lonny Gene Brewer, 29, was gunned down December 5, as he and other Special Enforcement Detail officers stormed the apartment of Robert Gary Taschner, who had barricaded himself and exchanged fire with officers. Taschner was later killed and two other deputies wounded.
In all, an overflow crowd of some 2,000 mourners packed themselves into First United Methodist Church in Mission Valley, then spilled into its basement and finally outside, where they listened to the service over loudspeakers.
Their badges taped in black, sheriff’s deputies, members of the SED, park rangers, and police and California Highway Patrol officers by the hundreds spent 45 minutes filing past Brewer’s casket and saluting before hearing Sheriff John Duffy eulogize him as a “man of high principles.”
“He was the kind of man others instantly trusted and liked because he was so genuine,” the sheriff said.
Duffy raised his voice in anger when he said that the bullet that ended Brewer’s life had been “fired by a madman with a death wish. Taschner was a loser in life but he succeeded in destroying Lonny’s life and happiness for his wife Cathy and both of their families.”
As sunshine streamed onto the flag-draped casket at the front of the church, Pastor George R. Gregg prayed for strength for the slain deputy’s family.
“What shall we say of a man who goes to college to prepare himself for a career in law enforcement because he chooses a life of service? What shall we say of a man who, when people speak of him, say he was kind, gentle and loving? What shall we say of a man who dies in the line of duty?”
“We say he is a good man,” Gregg said.
“Here was a man who, as a weight lifter, climbed to the heights of physical strength. Yet he was wise enough to know that the true measure of a man is his tenderness and attitude.”
Comparing Brewer’s youth and violent death to that of Christ, Gregg said, “Life at its best is very short, yet we are stunned to lose one so young. We hope that through burning tears, this family can see the promises beyond.”
Brewer was born in San Diego and grew up surrounded by law enforcement officers. His father, Jack, was a mechanic for the San Diego Police Department, Duffy said.
After graduating from Grosspoint College with a degree in criminal justice, Brewer joined the Sheriff’s Department in April 1980 and moved to SED, the sheriff’s special weapons unit, 2 ½ years ago.
Brewer married another deputy, Cathy Wiermaa, a traffic officer in Poway, in November.
The couple knew the risks of law enforcement; Cathy’s father, Robert, is a retired San Diego police officer. But the knowledge was no safeguard against a man with a “Rambo-like fantasy,” Duffy said.
Brewer was remembered by fellow SED member Lt. Edward J. Lubic as “a rough and tumble character” who could handle the pressures and duties of the elite unit.
Assignment to SED carries “an unwritten but constant demand to be a cut above. Lonny definitely was,” Lubic said.
“He had enormous physical strength yet he was a quiet, unobtrusive man, definitely a team player. He knew the risks but was committed to the job. More than a team player, he was our friend.
“In the wake of his death, there is the strength he leaves behind. We loved Lonny and we shall miss him dearly,” Lubic concluded.
Brewer’s “ultimate sacrifice,” said Duffy, causes officers to ask “ourselves, our God and the public we are willing to die for in order to protect,’ Why’?”
“We already know the answer. We know that we are the few who can hold the line, who can offer any hope for survival of the peace and tranquility guaranteed by the laws of our society,” Duffy said.
“On his wife’s birthday, Lonny Gene Brewer was killed by hostile gunfire. The phrase “killed in the line of duty” ends his career and his life on this earth. The phrase will give us cause to honor and remember him forever,” Duffy said.
A 10-mile-long police motorcade, lights blinking blue and red, escorted Brewer to his final resting place beside a pool and waterfall at El Camino Memorial Park in Sorrento Valley.
Deputy Scott Rossall, Brewer’s partner on the entry team, was shot in the leg by the same volley that killed Brewer. The 31-year-old Escondido resident stood, ashen-faced and braced by a cane, for more than an hour as part of the SED honor guard at graveside services.
After a 21-gun salute and the haunting refrain of “Taps” played by two buglers on a nearby hillside, Cathy Brewer bent sobbing over the flag that had draped the casket of her husband.
As a final tribute, five helicopters from the Sheriff’s Department, Life Flight and the Border Patrol flew over the cemetery, one of the Sheriff’s craft breaking away in the “missing man” formation.