Learning that Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh had fallen in the line of duty last week was all too horribly familiar for Mercedes Wallace.
“It took me back to that day, and I felt an awful burning inside of me,” she said, recalling a Sunday morning in November 2016. That’s when a knock came to her door with the devastating news that her husband, Stanislaus County Deputy Dennis Wallace, had been slain while on duty not far from their home in Hughson.
Both officers were felled by bullets, Wallace while checking on a stolen van near the Tuolumne River, and Singh after pulling over a suspected drunken driver in Newman.
Also killed in the line of duty was Ceres Police Sgt. Howie Stevenson, shot to death in 2005. Kathy Stevenson also spoke to The Bee about the experience.
“My heart is broken for her,” Mercedes Wallace said of Singh’s widow, Anamika. “I cried and my heartache and emotions all came back. All I can tell his wife is evil will not win, and we do survive, even if we think our life is over.”
Deputy Wallace’s suspected killer, David Machado, did not get far. He was arrested a few hours later in Lindsay, 150 miles to the south. The man suspected of murdering Singh, Gustavo Perez Arriaga, eluded authorities more than two days before a manhunt snared him in Lamont, 200 miles south of Newman.
Machado’s murder case is suspended because of questions regarding Machado’s mental capacity.
Mercedes Wallace kept in constant contact with her late husband’s coworkers during those anxious days that Arriaga was on the run. She felt strangely invested, she said, perhaps because of similarities with her husband’s death.
“When I finally got the text, `GOT HIM,’ my whole body went (gasp), and I started crying,” she said.
Mercedes summoned the will to attend a Friday candlelight vigil for the Newman corporal, and got word to his widow that Mercedes is available when Anamika Singh is ready to talk with someone who knows something about losing a husband like this.
Such visits are becoming far too common, Mercedes said. She’s gotten to know Helen Garner, the widow of Deputy Jason Garner, who suffered from a health problem when his patrol car crashed on Crows Landing Road in May 2017, killing him and his passenger, Community Services Officer Raschel Johnson. And both Mercedes and Helen helped console the mother of unmarried Deputy Tony Hinostroza after he was killed when his patrol car crashed into a traffic pole near Riverbank in November.
Kathy Stevenson — whose husband, Howie, was a Ceres police officer gunned down in an ambush 13 years ago — never misses an event for a fallen officer. She often goes with Diana May, whose husband, Modesto Police Sgt. Steve May, died in 2009 from injuries suffered when a vehicle theft suspect rammed his patrol car seven years earlier. Sometimes they meet up with Mercedes, or other sisters and wives and loved ones of the fallen.
“We’ve lost too many officers. It’s very heartbreaking,” Kathy said. “But you’ve got to support each other. We don’t come together every day in our lives, but with these kind of things, we’re like magnets drawn together. All we can do is help each other.”
Mercedes said, “Now we have a circle of friends we didn’t ask for, but we’re proud and happy to be with. We’re trying to find positives with people you never thought you’d be close to, but we are, because each one of us knows what we feel.”
It helps, she said, to reflect on the outpouring of support from a grateful community for their men’s sacrifice. A Hughson soccer complex was renamed for Dennis Wallace, for example. Funeral services for Singh will be held Friday and Saturday in Newman, Modesto and Hughson.
“The loneliness, anger, depression, anxiety are part of the waves of emotion we have to live (with) day after day,” Mercedes said. “Sometimes when I’m going crazy, I lay there thinking he made a difference in the community, and it makes me feel better.
“So I will tell (Anamika Singh) to represent him, to be proud of him. When they put that uniform on, they died loving what they do.”