“A dedicated servant to his community and his country,” is how Riverside County Deputy Sheriff Manuel Villegas is described by virtually everyone who knew him.
Deputy Villegas, age 33, was killed in the early morning of March 19, 2007, in a head-on collision on Pierce Street near 63rd Avenue in Thermal. Villegas was following another deputy in a separate patrol car, heading north on Pierce to a follow-up domestic violence call. A red Nissan Maxima swerved into the deputies’ lane and collided with Villegas. The other deputy was able to avoid the oncoming car. The driver of the Maxima was identified as Jorge Alberto Martinez, 64, of Coachella. Both Villegas and Martinez died at the scene.
In the department’s press release Sheriff Bob Doyle stated, “Manuel made a difference in the lives of those he touched while carrying out his duties as a deputy sheriff, and he will be missed by all those who loved, cared for, and respected him.”
Deputy Villegas joined the Riverside Sheriff’s Department in November 2005 after graduating No. 1 in his academy class. Villegas was also awarded the California Academy Directors Association Award acknowledging “the student in the course who has proven to be the most inspirational role model and sets high standards for other students to follow”.
Prior to joining Riverside Sheriff’s Department, Villegas served in the United States Marine Corps, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Division, and was honorably discharged. After a break in service he enlisted in the United States Army and served in Special Forces with the 307th Infantry Battalion and the 2nd Battalion, Special Forces Group. He was awarded The United States Army Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Marine Good Conduct Medal, and the National Defense Medal. He received campaign medals for service in Afghanistan, Kuwait, and The Global War on Terrorism Medal. He was also a graduate of basic Army Airborne School, Fort Benning, Georgia, and held the elite parachutist rating.
On Tuesday, March 27th, a funeral mass was held in honor of Deputy Manuel Villegas where hundreds of his fellow deputies, police officers, friends and family gathered to paid tribute to the fallen hero.
Rev. John S. Vieira and Sheriff Bob Doyle saluted Deputy Villegas’ courage and self-sacrifice.
“Deputy Villegas was a very, very special man, a man who could teach all of us a thing or two about service,” Doyle said.
Villegas was also remembered as a loving father and husband. He married his wife Xochitl in 1999 and the couple has two children, Ezequiel and Israel. He is also survived by his daughter Stacie Lee and son Xavier. In an autobiography he wrote for the sheriff’s department, Villegas expressed deep love for his wife and four children, Doyle said during the service.
Rev. Vieira acknowledged the expanse of uniformed officers, “I thank you with a grateful heart,” and at services end said, “Welcome our brother Manuel into paradise.”