Officer Reuben F. Rios’ life was ended by the type of person he had dedicated his life to do battle against – a drunk driver. Prosecutors filed murder charges against Thomas E. Marquez, 34, who ran down Rios on October 27 in Devore while he was directing traffic following a rock concert. Rios suffered major head injuries and died after being airlifted to a hospital.
Marquez was charged with second-degree murder and felony drunken driving. Tests indicated that he had a blood-alcohol content of .14. He had previously been convicted of drunken driving in 1991.
It was the first time a CHP officer in San Bernardino County died on duty since 1973.
Rios, a 24-year veteran of the San Bernardino CHP, was named Officer of the Year for 1995. He gave speeches at local alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers and gave traffic safety presentations to many local groups including Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.
Every year, Rios attended candlelight vigils held by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers to remember the victims of drunken drivers. He booked a lot of drunken drivers in his career.
Retired CHP officer Tony Hernandez said “It’s ironic that one of these idiots would be the one to take him out.”
Rios was regarded as a role model for many of the department’s officers. He was honored twice this year as Officer of the Year – first by the Latino Peace Officers Association and later by VFW Post 8737 and the Ladies Auxiliary.
A professional who would never treat even a small, non-injury accident as routine was how coworkers described Rios. “You only had to work once with Reuben to realize you wanted him as a partner,” Hernandez, a close friend of Rios, told the standing room only crowd assembled at the First Assembly of God Church for the funeral service.
“He was my hero,” Hernandez said, his voice cracking as he stared at the open blue casket where his friend’s body lay before the audience. “I loved him like a brother.”
Hernandez noted that although Rios was nearing retirement, he still worked with rookie officers as a training officer. “Who else would you want but the best to train new officers,” he asked.
During the funeral services, scores of uniformed lawmen wept openly beside civilians as speakers remembered Rios as a soft-spoken gentle man with a personable style. Several recordings of Rios’ favorite country western tunes were played.
“That big laugh he always laughed, when he would throw back his shoulders and his head,” Officer Dale Clark recalled before the gathering. “I wish I could hear that laugh again. I miss him.”
CHP Commissioner Spike Helmick told the crowd about the continuing need to spread the word about the dangers of drunken driving “so not one more innocent officer or citizen needs to suffer because of them.” Rios epitomized the qualities of a CHP officer, Helmick said. “The motorists of this state were a little safer because of what Reuben did” he said.
Officer Hector Pena, one of Rios’ coworkers, said he was always dressed impeccably no matter what. “Not like some of us. When Reuben got dressed after work or on his days off, it was not Levis and tennis shoes. It was regular dress slacks.”
A family man, Rios tried to take his lunch or dinner breaks at his Colton home whenever possible. Because he was an avid pool player, he screened in his back patio and put in a pool table. It was a popular gathering place for friends. Hernandez stated that his goal was to beat Rios at pool but he never could.
Rios was devoted to the Lions Club and arranged his days off to accommodate the Bloomington Lions Club’s meetings. Hernandez stated “He looked forward to Christmas time, working with the club and community. That is what gave him the greatest joy – to deliver gift baskets to needy families.”
His coworkers take some comfort in knowing that 25-year-old Reuben Jr. recently completed his oral exams for the CHP. “He looks and talks just like his father,” Hernandez exclaimed. “Hopefully, he will be one of us pretty soon,” said Pena.
Rios, 53, lived in the San Bernardino area most of his life and graduated from San Bernardino High School in 1961. He also attended San Bernardino Valley College and served in the Army from 1964 to 1966. He joined the CHP at the age of 31 as a cadet in 1974 and served his entire career with the CHP’s Inland division.
Rios is survived by his wife of 26 years, Irene; a daughter, Gina; a son, Reuben Jr.; three grandchildren; and a brother and sister.
A memorial fund has been established for Rios’ family. Donations may be sent to the San Bernardino CHP office, 2211 Western Avenue, San Bernardino 92411, and should be marked “Reuben Rios’ Memorial Fund.”