Officer Richard Maxwell fired all 12 bullets from his handgun during the gun battle that erupted after he stopped a stolen car on July 11, 1994.
The shotgun blast which struck him above the neck-line of his bulletproof vest made Maxwell the first homicide victim in the California Highway Patrol Bakersfield Division, said division Commander John Anderson.
Maxwell, a five-year CHP veteran, died at a hospital about 45 minutes after the shooting. Maxwell stopped a stolen car in a residential area, said Corporal Dave Carr, CHP watch commander. “He requested backup. When the backup officer got there, he called in, ‘Shots fired. Officer down. Need an ambulance,”‘ Maxwell was a tenacious tracer of stolen cars, earning a commendation pin for his success at catching car thieves. “Sometimes he looked a little too hard, I think, and that’s probably what happened,” Carr said. “At briefing he talked about finding a vehicle that had run from him.”
Fatal shootings involving CHP officers are rare. Since 1929, 10 CHP officers based out of the Bakersfield office have been killed while on duty. Maxwell was the first to be fatally shot.
Friends and family remembered Maxwell as an athletic man who outgrew his shyness as a boy, but never left behind the affability, good manners and compassion that went along with it.
Born in Portage, Wisconsin, Maxwell graduated from Portage Senior High School, where he set a school high-jump record. A devout member of the Assembly of God Church, he went to Evangel College in Missouri and graduated in 1982.
Maxwell earned a teaching credential, moved to California and taught a few years. But he found his true calling in law enforcement and attended the CHP Academy in Sacramento.
“He was really excited about it, really into it,” said his father, William Maxwell. “He was quiet and unassuming,” Officer Gary Sheetz said. “He was our buddy; cheerful all the time.”
Laurie Pauley, Maxwell’s next door neighbor recalled an incident about a year ago when Maxwell heard noises near her house about 10 p.m. “He came over with his big flashlight to see if we were OK,” Pauley said. “He was always watching out for us.”
Despite his commitment to his job, Maxwell always took time to be with his family. He adored his daughter. He also liked athletics and tinkering with the engine on his Dodge truck.
CHP Officer Doug Brewer described Maxwell as a quiet man. “He was one of those listeners,” Brewer said. “The good Lord needed him more than we did.”
One of Maxwell’s biggest admirers paid her respects in her own way. Fawn Finney and her two daughters owe their lives to Maxwell’s quick action following a traffic accident in 1991. Finney and her then 5-week-old and 2-year-old daughters were sideswiped by a big rig on Highway 99, Karlie, the newborn, was thrown from the car Fawn slammed into the front windshield, and her other daughter was wedged in the car.
Maxwell rescued the family, called for an ambulance and radioed ahead to have the truck driver arrested. After the accident, Finney frequently delivered balloons, cards and flowers to the CHP station to thank Maxwell. On the day he was killed, she delivered flowers to officers still shaken by their comrade’s death.
Maxwell is survived by his wife, Freda Marlene, and daughter, Megan, 8, of Bakersfield; his father, William, and mother, Joan, of Portage, Wisconsin; a sister in Deerfield and a brother in Brazil.
An account for Maxwell’s wife and daughter was established by the CHP 420 Club, an officers club in the Bakersfield area. Contributions can be made to Paramount Savings Bank, 8200 Stockdale Highway, Bakersfield, CA 93311.