Death of Modesto sergeant leaves ‘tremendous void’ in colleagues’ hearts, chief says

Memorial for fallen Modesto Police Department sergeant

A large American flag and flowers are pictured on Merle Avenue near Fine Avenue in northeast Modesto, Calif., where on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, a Modesto Police Department sergeant was struck and killed by a vehicle while he was riding his bicycle
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A large American flag and flowers are pictured on Merle Avenue near Fine Avenue in northeast Modesto, Calif., where on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, a Modesto Police Department sergeant was struck and killed by a vehicle while he was riding his bicycle

The off-duty Modesto police sergeant killed in a crash while bicycling near his east Modesto home Tuesday evening has been identified as Mike Pershall, 38, who’d been with the department since November 2012.

“Mike’s loss creates a tremendous void within our organization and within the hearts of those he touched,” Chief Galen Carroll said in a news release Wednesday afternoon. “We are forever grateful for the moments we shared with him.”

Prior to joining the MPD, he’d served as a deputy with the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office for nearly five years. “Everyone here is just heartbroken and trying to process what has happened,” Tuolumne sheriff’s spokeswoman Sgt. Andrea Benson said in an email Wednesday morning.

Pershall had just been promoted to sergeant on Aug. 8 and “was beginning his new chapter as a front-line supervisor and leader within the organization,” the Police Department said.

With the Modesto department, Pershall had worked in a variety of positions, including field training officer, K-9 handler, certified critical incident hostage negotiator and adviser to the Police Explorer Program. In Tuolumne County, he was on the sheriff’s SWAT team and was recognized as rookie of the year in 2008. He was a graduate of the San Joaquin Delta College police academy.

“Pershall quickly proved he was a dedicated professional who cared about the community and youth,” Modesto department spokeswoman Heather Graves said in the news release. “... As a field training officer, Pershall was instrumental in training and mentoring new officers, teaching them the fundamentals of being a public servant and guardian to the community.

“Pershall also volunteered as an adviser for the Police Explorer Program, which is a mentoring and development program for youth between the ages of 15 and 21. Pershall led by example and was a positive role model for the new and young members of the department.”

As a canine handler, he provided countless canine presentations and demonstrations to community groups, schools and youth organizations, Graves said. His most recent outing with his canine partner, Ike, included visiting several block parties at this year’s National Night Out.

The Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post Wednesday afternoon, “Mike was a good cop, a good friend, and this is truly a tragic loss. We were blessed to have Mike for the time he was with our office. Many of our deputies share emotional and tearful embraces this morning as they, along with many others, mourn the loss of their brother and good friend.”

John Loya, a friend of Pershall’s for a decade or more, told The Bee, “He was passionate about the community, he was a born leader.”

The men became friends through a mutual love of Corvettes, but when Pershall became a father, “his fun with the fast cars ended and he focused on his family,” Loya said. Much as Loya said he didn’t like to think of it, he “figured if something ever happened to Mike, it would be in the line of duty, not something like this.”

Pershall is survived by his wife, Christine, and two sons of junior high and high school age, Loya said. “The boys were his pride and joy, and they looked up to him.”

A 32-year-old Modesto man, Matthew Gibbs, was arrested at the crash scene and is being held without bail on homicide and DUI charges.

Shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday, the collision was reported on Merle Avenue, west of Fine Avenue. Emergency personnel found Pershall, who’d been riding a bicycle west along the north edge of Merle, lying in a westbound lane. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Gibbs was driving a Volkswagen coupe west on Merle and struck the rear of the sergeant’s bike, ejecting him, the CHP said. The Volkswagen drove up onto the north curb, struck a fire hydrant and came to a stop along the north shoulder of Merle Avenue, west of the collision scene.

Gibbs was taken into custody by the CHP after he displayed signs of impairment. He was booked into the Stanislaus County Jail.

Stanislaus Superior Court records show Gibbs in 2014 had a misdemeanor DUI case that was dismissed. (See sidebar.)

Also in 2014 in Siskiyou County, Gibbs pleaded no contest to DUI with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher. He admitted to an enhancement of having a blood alcohol content of 0.20 percent or higher. Gibbs also pleaded no contest to driving on a suspended or revoked license.

On Facebook, a member of the Blue Line Wives, a nonprofit group made up of spouses and others who support law enforcement, said meal trains and memorial accounts are in the works to support the Pershall family.

Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327

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