California Highway Patrol Officer Sean A. Nava, whose personal goal was to get drunks off the road, was struck and killed Thursday, Oct. 28, by a driver returning from a night of drinking in Tijuana, authorities reported.
An 11-year patrol veteran, Nava, 33, died after he was struck by a Toyota 4Runner driven by Christopher P. Merrick, 20, of Breckenridge, Colorado, according to CHP spokeswoman Teri Reese.
Reese stated that the circumstances of Nava’s death were ironic: “Nava worked the graveyard shift the majority of his career because his goal was to get impaired drivers off the highway.”
He had been investigating an earlier accident and was standing six feet away from traffic in the center median strip of Interstate 5 just north of Tamarack Avenue in Carlsbad at 6:13 a.m. when he was struck, Reese reported.
Reese said that Merrick continued driving, left the freeway and drove onto a nearby street where he was forced to stop because his vehicle’s windshield was smashed, the fender twisted and the hood crumpled.
Neighbors who were awakened by Merrick and his partner, James R. Smith Jr., 22, arguing, notified the Carlsbad police, who had been alerted to a nearby hit-and-run crash involving a similar vehicle and an officer.
A witness to the freeway accident identified Merrick whose blood alcohol level was in excess of .08. He was booked into the Vista jail on charges of manslaughter, felony hit-and-run driving and drunken driving. His passenger, Smith, was questioned and released. Among the more than 1,300 people attending funeral services on Wednesday, Nov. 1, at the Mission San Luis Rey, Serra Center, in Oceanside were Gov. Gray Davis, CHP Commissioner Dwight Helmick and law enforcement officers from as far away as Illinois, Tennessee and New York.
At the service Rev. William Kernan said of Nava, “Sean was a great blessing to those that knew and loved him.”
Officer Mike Kelley, who worked the overnight shift with Nava, shared memories of numerous times he glimpsed Nava’s goodness. He told the mourners that if Nava saw a homeless person while patrolling the highway, he would stop, help him to safety and then give him some money so he could eat.
Governor Davis told Nava’s wife, Melanie, that “all of California mourns with you.” He continued, saying that Nava served as a “soldier of decency” and was a hero in a time when heroes are few.
“When people ask you where have all the heroes gone, tell them the story of Sean Nava. To his core he was a police officer. It was his calling and it was in his blood. Like all his fellow law enforcement officers all across America, he embodied the best in our nation.” Nava was buried during a private service in Riverside.
Nava grew up in Oceanside where his family moved when he was one-year-old. He graduated from Oceanside High School and enlisted in the Army where he served as a military police officer in Germany. He joined the CHP after he was honorably discharged as a sergeant.
Nava met his wife, Melanie, at the CHP Academy in Sacramento where they were students. They married after graduation in 1989 and, after a stint in San Jose, joined the San Diego office in 1992 and transferred to Oceanside in 1997. Nava had recently been chosen to work on a special community outreach-policing program.
Reese described Nava as a “great individual and a devoted family man who was involved in his church. He was articulate and well educated, taking classes at California State University, San Marcos. He wasn’t just good at the technical side, he was the whole package, a wonderful team player.”
Nava was given a Spirit of Courage award by the San Diego Burn Institute for his act of heroism in trying to save a driver trapped in a burning vehicle in June 1999.
He recently graduated from the University of Phoenix and his friends described Nava as a financial wizard. Nava planned to help his fellow officers to make sure their futures were financially secure.
Gov. Davis concluded the service by saying “Sean Nava served us so we could be safe. He took risks so we could be safe today and all our tomorrows.”
His wife, Melanie, and children, Alexandria, 7, and Patrick, 4, survive Nava.
A memorial fund has been established to assist the Nava family. Donations may be made to: Officer Sean Nava Memorial Fund, c/o El Dorado Bank, 675 Carlsbad Village Drive, Carlsbad, CA 92008-2305.