After high school graduation, eight boys loaded up a blue Volkswagen van for a month- long road trip across the country, with luggage piled on top and deer antlers stuck between the headlights.
Seven of the now adult road trip alumni came together again this week to create a scholarship fund at Modesto High School in memory of their eighth member -- 37-year-old Vu Nguyen, who was killed while on duty as a Sacramento County sheriff's detective.
Nguyen, a gang unit detective and 1989 graduate of Modesto High, was gunned down while chasing a suspicious teen in December. Jimmy Siackasorn, 16, was arraigned on the murder charge in January and will be tried as an adult.
"I think, really, the momentum is gathering fairly quickly because of the kind of person he was," said Mike Henderson, a friend of Nguyen's and principal of La Loma Junior High School in Modesto. "He was a very genuine individual. He had just a really solid sense of who he was and what he wanted to do."
Modesto High students have until April 18 to apply for the scholarship, which is intended to help one or more students continue their education after high school.
The scholarship form details how Nguyen's family fled Vietnam the day before the fall of Saigon in 1975. Friends said Nguyen's decision to pursue a career in law enforcement was influenced by one of his earliest childhood images of that dramatic escape.
"His inspiration for joining law enforcement was watching those American soldiers helping him and his family," Henderson said.
Nguyen was the sixth child in a family of 10. He grew up in southwest Modesto, near Paradise and Carpenter roads, where he witnessed the sort of gang violence he would combat as an adult.
Despite the difficulty of learning a new language, Nguyen excelled at Modesto High School, Modesto Junior College and later graduated with honors from California State University, Sacramento, with a degree in criminal justice.
In addition to strong grades and a solid record of commu- nity service, candidates for the Vu Nguyen Memorial Scholarship may be given special consideration if they plan to pursue a career in law enforcement or education.
Henderson said the number of students awarded and the amount of the scholarship will depend on the donations received.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2337.