The Stanislaus County Sheriff and his command staff were in Washington, D.C., on Saturday to pay tribute to a deputy who was killed six months ago in the line of duty when they got word of another tragedy for the department. A sheriff’s deputy and a community service officer were killed in a fiery crash while on their way to a burglary call in south Modesto.
Deputy Jason Garner, a nine-year veteran of the force, and Community Service Officer Raschel Johnson, who has been with the department for 15 years, both died at the scene, according to Stanislaus Undersheriff Ralph Ghimenti.
Garner was driving north on Crows Landing Road approaching Seventh Street, with Johnson riding as a passenger, when for unknown reasons the patrol vehicle left the roadway and crashed on the Modesto Auto Wreckers property on the west side of the road, said Officer Thomas Olsen, spokesman for the California Highway Patrol. The vehicle somehow ended up atop a dumpster, where it caught fire.
“Emergency personnel arrived on scene to a fully engulfed vehicle and they did everything they could to save the two occupants of the vehicle,” he said. “It is a sad day for us here in Stanislaus County, for all of us.”
Firefighters draped American flags over the bodies, Olsen said.
The charred patrol vehicle could be seen atop the dumpster and another vehicle near the auto wrecker’s building. Emergency crews had to access the vehicle by ladder. Surveillance video from Star Auto Sales, at the corner of Crows Landing and Seventh, shows the deputy’s vehicle skidding off the road at a high rate of speed and kicking up a plume of dust seconds before the crash.
Johnson was on her first day of a new assignment working out of the Modesto office of the Sheriff’s Department, said Deputy Royjindar Singh, a department spokesman. She had previously been stationed in Patterson, but was set to lead a training program for the new centralized community service officer staff. Garner had taken Johnson with him to job shadow and work on their training program.
Ghimenti expressed condolences to both families and asked for the community’s thoughts and prayers. Garner leaves behind a wife and four children, ages 2 to 15, and Johnson is survived by her mother, father and three children ages 9 to 23.
“Jason was a well-liked deputy both in the adult detention side and in the operations side. Raschel was one of those community service officers who would go the extra mile to help her coworkers,” Ghimenti said.
Garner and Johnson were responding to a prior burglary call that was not in progress, Ghimenti said. He would not speculate on the cause of the crash, and said investigators have seen the surveillance video.
The California Highway Patrol is leading the collision investigation and has called in its Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team out of Fresno to assist, said CHP Captain Julian Irigoyen. He said the investigation could take several months.
Sheriff Adam Christianson, along with other department officials, were in Washington, D.C., to pay tribute to Deputy Dennis Wallace who exactly six months ago was killed in the line of duty while investigating a report of a stolen vehicle at Fox Grove Park in Hughson. Christianson got on a plane to head back to Modesto on Saturday after he received word of the accident.
“We are still healing from that tragic loss and now are dealing with another,” Singh said. “Word is still getting out internally through our department that we have had another tragic loss; as the day goes by and the evening goes by it is just going to hit even harder.”
He said those who worked closest with the deputy and CSO were given time to grieve. Meanwhile, other deputies were called in to work and neighboring agencies helped respond to calls in the Sheriff Department’s jurisdiction. An impromptu procession of law enforcement vehicles from the Sheriff’s Department, Modesto Police and other agencies escorted the bodies of Garner and Johnson through the streets of Modesto as they were taken to the county coroner’s office late Saturday afternoon.
Gov. Jerry Brown expressed his and his wife’s condolences to the victims in a statement Saturday. “Anne and I were deeply saddened to learn of the collision that resulted in the tragic deaths of Deputy Garner and Community Service Officer Johnson this morning. Both were dedicated public servants who devoted their careers to keeping the people of Stanislaus County safe. We extend our deepest condolences to their families, friends and coworkers."
In additional to Wallace’s death in November, the Sheriff’s Department lost deputy Bob Paris in 2012 and Mary Donahou in 2011. Paris and locksmith Glendon Engert were shot by a man they were trying to evict as Engert drilled through the lock on the front door of man’s house. Donahou was hit by a car while crossing the street at the scene of a drive-by shooting in Hughson.