Newly unveiled highway markers remember a slain ‘guardian,’ Deputy Dennis Wallace

Newly unveiled markers on Highway 132 remember a slain ‘guardian,’ Deputy Dennis Wallace

Hundreds of people gathered at a rural intersection east of Empire on Saturday morning. There, a stretch of Yosemite Boulevard reaching Waterford was named for Stanislaus County Deputy Sheriff Dennis Wallace.
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Hundreds of people gathered at a rural intersection east of Empire on Saturday morning. There, a stretch of Yosemite Boulevard reaching Waterford was named for Stanislaus County Deputy Sheriff Dennis Wallace.

In a demonstration of the impact Stanislaus County sheriff’s Deputy Dennis Wallace had on so many lives, hundreds of people gathered at a rural intersection east of Empire on Saturday morning.

Family members, friends, colleagues, dignitaries and supporters were there for the unveiling of a sign dedicating the nearly 5-mile stretch of Yosemite Boulevard/Highway 132 between Root Road and McEwen Road, in Waterford, as the Deputy Sheriff Dennis Wallace Memorial Highway. Its sister sign on the other end of the route in Waterford was revealed later in the day.

Among those who spoke was Sheriff Jeff Dirkse, who called the late deputy a shining example of the “nobility of what it is that we do to protect the communities that we serve.”

Wallace was fatally shot Nov. 13, 2016, while checking on a stolen van at the Fox Grove fishing access near Hughson. Suspect David Machado was arrested a few hours later and has been held since, awaiting trial.

At Saturday’s dedication Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager shared her thoughts on Wallace and what such memorial highways mean.

In front of the lectern stood a larger-than-life Sheriff’s Department official portrait of a softly smiling Wallace. Gesturing to it, she said it’s a nice picture, but not the best. “It’s not one of the many really great pictures that really show Dennis with this huge smile and these sparkling eyes. … That’s what we think of when we think of Dennis.”

About the memorial highway markers, she said when residents see them in the community, they know the names: Modesto Sgt. Steve May, Modesto Officer Leo Volk, CHP Officer Earl Scott, Ceres Sgt. Howard Stevenson. “We know what they look like, we know their families, we know their smiles.”

When we see the signs in other areas, we likely don’t know the people or their stories, she said. (The district attorney didn’t note it, but an exception may be a stretch of Highway 88 in the San Joaquin County town of Waterloo. In December, it was named in memory of slain Stanislaus County Deputy Robert Paris.)

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Mercedes Wallace, middle, is surrounded by members of her family as a section of Highway 132 is dedicated in honor of the her husband Dennis Wallace near Root Road east of Empire, Calif., Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019. The highway was named for slain Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Deputy Dennis Wallace who fatally shot while on duty in 2016. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

But whether we know the names or not, Fladager said, they’re there “because we lost a guardian.” The men and women honored with memorial highways should be remembered, valued and treasured now that they’re gone, she said, and their colleagues willing to lay their lives on the line should be appreciated while they’re still here.

Wallace’s widow, Mercedes, spoke briefly to thank all who turned out and the countless more who’ve given their support since her husband’s slaying. She specifically thanked Dirkse and Assemblyman Heath Flora and his staff for making the memorial highway happen.

“On my bad days, when I have my darkest days, I think about this,” she said.

She was joined at the microphone by her brother-in-law, Modesto police Sgt. Dave Wallace, who gave similar thanks to Flora, Dirkse and others. He pointed out in the audience family members of fallen Deputies Paris, Antonio “Tony” Hinostroza and Jason Garner and Newman police Cpl. Ronil Singh.

Dave Wallace ribbed his brother’s widow that, contrary to her protests otherwise, Dennis was not perfect. But he truly embodied the meaning of community and had a special ability to connect with people.

His brother’s smile shined brightest when it came to kids, Wallace said. He made them feel special and important, whether they were among his dozens of nieces and nephews, his godchildren, the hundreds he taught in the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program or the thousands who came in contact with him during his several years as a school resource officer and his 26-plus years officiating youth and high school football and soccer.

The highway markers are a memorial to his brother’s life of service, to his commitment to a greater purpose than himself, to his willingness to sacrifice all, if necessary, Wallace said. “This honor is not for how he died, but for how he lived: a life of honor, dignity and respect. Ideas that are perfect.”

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Deke has been an editor and reporter with The Modesto Bee since 1995. He currently does breaking-news, education and human-interest reporting. A Beyer High grad, he studied geology and journalism at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento.