Officer Russell M. Miller Sr., a 12-year veteran of the Chino Police Department, became the department’s first officer to die in the line of duty Tuesday, Feb. 1, when a drunk driver struck him as he stopped another motorist for a traffic violation.
Miller, the father of three, died of internal injuries he sustained when he was hit during the early morning traffic stop.
He had stopped a pickup truck for a minor traffic offense and was walking toward the vehicle when a 1999 Chevy Suburban, driven by 21-year-old Joseph John Martinez, came up from behind, smashing into his patrol car and striking Miller, tossing him into the bed of the stopped pickup.
Martinez did not stop after hitting Miller, but was arrested less than 15 minutes after the accident, when he slammed into a light pole and signpost, knocking a wheel off his pickup. Residents from the area, awakened by the commotion caused by the accident, detained him when he tried to drive away on the axle. He was later found to allegedly have a blood-alcohol level of 0.17, more than twice the legal limit for drivers in California.
The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office filed second-degree murder charges against Martinez. In addition, charges of gross vehicular manslaughter and felony hit and run were also filed. He was arraigned in Chino Superior Court and a bail of $1 million was set. Martinez was held to answer all charges and a trial date has been set for the first week of May in Rancho Cucamonga.
Chief Gene Hernandez stated, “Miller was an officer who was well liked, well respected.” He added that he was older than most field officers and brought a sense of maturity to the department. “He was a very stabilizing force in a rather youthful patrol unit. He loved people and he loved life.” Miller, a field-training officer, was also part of the department’s Mounted Enforcement Team.
The St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Chino Hills was packed with law enforcement officers for Miller’s Mass of Christian burial on Monday, Feb. 7. Law enforcement personnel came from throughout California; and as far distant as Idaho and Utah.
The ceremony was punctuated by both tears and laughter as Miller’s colleagues recalled the man they knew, recounting his immense love for his family, and his skill as a police officer.
At the funeral service Fr. Mike Maher spoke of the officer who survived being accidentally shot with a hunting rifle when he was 17, who spent six years in Vietnam, and who survived a problem with blood clots five years ago – only to fall in the line of duty.
Chief Gene Hernandez said in his eulogy, “We know we go to work for others, not for ourselves. God handpicked Officer Miller . . . God has told us that he served his time. Take time to remember Officer Miller for what he was – a chosen protector.”
Chino Deputy District Attorney Michael Libutti, referring to Miller, stated “He always said he liked spending time with his kids and how important that was to him. He worked traffic cases and he was just a great guy. He was very competent and took his work seriously.”
At the end of the funeral service, one of Miller’s daughters, Melissa, released a white dove in a symbolic release of her father. The dove was joined by 20 others in a formation that flew briefly over the nearby lake, and then departed.
Upon graduating from Magnolia High School in Anaheim in 1967, Miller joined the Navy, where he served six years at the height of the Vietnam War. After being discharged he held a series of jobs working as a welder, truck driver and construction worker before he convinced his wife Stephanie to let him apply to become a police officer. He graduated from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Academy on Feb. 5, 1988.
Miller became involved in family and community activities after his three children were born. He coached Little League and helped out with the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets Corps that his son, Russell Jr., belonged to.
He and his wife recently purchased 20 acres in Montana and were looking forward to retirement in about six years. Ofc. Steve Hopsiter, a close friend and coworker, said that Miller had brought a brochure to work about a month ago that pictured the log cabin he and his wife planned to build for their retirement home.
Hopsiter, who also purchased acreage in Montana and had planned to retire when Miller did, continued, “This was not part of the plan. I know for a fact he was not ready to go now. He had longevity in his family. He was planning to spend 20 years in Montana with Stephanie.”
Although Miller was the first in the modern history of Chino to lose his life in the line of duty, he was the third to die in the 113-year history of the community and the second in Chino since the city was incorporated in 1910.
Miller is survived by his wife, Stephanie; daughters, Melissa Endecott, 20, and Sarah, 19; son, Russell Jr., 15; parents, Donald and Lottie Miller of Oregon; sisters, Theresa Eakins and Diane Miller, both of Oregon; and a brother, Gregory Miller of Highland.
The Chino Police Association has established a memorial fund for the Miller family. Checks should be made payable to The Russell M. Miller Memorial Fund and mailed to the Chino Police Association, P.O. Box 2557, Chino, CA 91708.
Tributes in honor of Officer Russell M. Miller, Sr.
Russ was my uncle he taught me honor and respect. I enlisted in the navy after high school because of his teaching and guidance. He was always a man to look up to.