Hundreds of police cruisers and other vehicles participated in an extraordinary funeral procession honoring Deputy Sandra L. Larson on Tuesday, Dec. 15, in Sacramento, following services at the Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church.
Larson, 48, a front-seat passenger in a sheriff’s van that was taking two inmates from Soledad Prison to Sacramento for court dates, died Tuesday, Dec. 8, when the van crashed into a stalled tractor-trailer rig parked on I-5.
The rig, which had broken down, was parked between the merging lanes of northbound Interstate 5 near the J Street exit. A broken water line had forced the truck to stop in the narrow no-drive zone, CHP spokesman Officer Brent Carter reported.
Deputy Larson died at the scene of the accident. The passenger side of the van, where she was seated, was crushed against the rear of the truck. Deputy Susan Rosenberg, 53, who was driving the van, survived with broken bones and a lacerated arm. She remained hospitalized and underwent surgery on a broken foot.
Rosenberg was brought by ambulance to the service for her dear friend. Rosenberg, appearing to be in pain, sat up in a portable bed. Afterward the service, Rosenberg said she was “overwhelmed” by the turnout.
She stated, “I’ve attended many (police) funerals during my career, but never one that impacted me so much.”
The inmates that were being transported to court sustained injuries. One suffered a fractured jaw and other injuries that required hospitalization, and the other was treated and returned to jail.
“Larson and her partner, Rosenberg, were part of a tight-knit unit of 10 deputies, five teams of two, who move inmates across the state,” Lt. Thomas Guichard, who heads the department’s court division stated. He added that partners in the group spend a lot of time together on the road and sometimes they stay overnight.
Deputy Lori Battimarco stated that she sometimes filled in on the teams and had ridden with Larson on several occasions. She said they would swap stories about the trials of rearing teenage children, and Larson would proudly show off photos of her 16-year-old daughter and 13-year old son.
Battimarco said, “She was about the sweetest person you could ever meet. She was always asking about people. She was very supportive of anything you were doing.”
Larson, who joined the Sacramento Co. Sheriff’s Department in 1974, was also known as a tough officer who spoke her mind, especially on union issues. She was on the union’s board of directors for many of the past 18 years.
Wendell Phillips, former deputies’ union president, recalled an incident when he and Larson responded to a call at a house 20 years ago and were confronted by members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang.
“I was surrounded by Hell’s Angels, and one of them said to me, ‘Why are you here by yourself?'” Phillips said. “At that time, you could hear the sound of a shotgun racking. Larson said, ‘He’s not here by himself.'”
Larson, a native of Sacramento, was raised in Rio Linda, where she graduated from the Rio Linda High School in 1968. She worked as an eligibility worker for the county Welfare Department and a clerical worker in the District Attorney’s Office before joining the Sheriff’s Department in 1974.
She attended Sacramento City College where she earned an associate of arts degree in criminal justice.
Her duty assignments with the Sacramento Co. Sheriff’s Department included the branch jail and the main jail. She had also served as patrol officer. She had worked in the long-haul transportation for the past eight years.
Lt. Guichard stated that, “Sandy was a terrific deputy. She was always on the cutting edge of security and she treated inmates with respect and dignity. She worked with numerous divisions within the department and had been our longest member of the transportation unit. “. . . She was always cheerful, always quick with recommendations to improve service to the community. She spoke her mind. She was forthright and honest.”
Sheriff’s Lt. Jim Cooper, said of Larson, “A lot of people didn’t want to get involved in the (union), but she did and she became a very vocal member of the board. She was a straight shooter who would let you know how she felt, about everything. People liked that.
“You always knew where she was coming from. She was very outgoing, well respected by her peers, always had a smile, just a very nice lady.”
Former Deputy Pat Wirsing called her “the sparkplug of the association.”
Out-going Sheriff Glen Craig eulogized Larson as an outstanding officer and “role model for others.”
Sheriff-elect Lou Blanas stated, “It was a most touching and emotional farewell to a fine officer. The law enforcement community is like a family. When one of us dies in the line of duty, we show enormous support.”
Larson was the first female Sacramento County deputy to have died in the line of duty, and the first officer to die since 1988, when Deputy Richard E. Deffner was shot and killed.
The family suggested that any donations be mailed to the Law Enforcement Chaplaincy in care of the Larson family, 2000 Marconi Ave., Sacramento 95821.
She is survived by her husband, Robert Larson, a pilot currently assigned to the Sacramento Co. Sheriff’s aero detail; a daughter, Teresa, 16; son, Mark, 13; mother, Virginia Rudkin and step-father, Pete Rudkin, of Sacramento; sister, Pamela McBroom; and brothers, Lt. Bill Powell of the Sacramento Co. Sheriff’s Dept., and John Powell of New York City.